A Critic's theater picks from the Jeff Awards nominations

August 31, 2011

My picks this week are from among the past year's worth of Equity productions, as I respond to the Jeff nominations that came out this week. The main thing to be said about the nominations is the same every year: that they reveal the essential impossibility of the task the Jeff Committee imposes on itself. How to compare absolutely incommensurable activities like playing George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and playing Aunt Augusta in Travels With My Aunt?  It's amazing that these are even examples of the same profession, much less activities to be weighed against one another.

 

Likewise, having had the privilege of seeing all but two of the seven nominees for "Best production--Play--Large" (by which I presume is meant "at a large theater," though in that case Writers' Theatre's participation is almost inexplicable!)--having seen five of the seven, I can confidently say that the answer to "Which is best?" is "Yes." Chinglish is a smart and witty account of contemporary mores and clashing cultures, while The Seagull is a delicate meditation on our inability to connect, while Virginia Woolf is a raucous meditation on our inability to connect, while The Madness of George III marries history and medicine to tragicomic effect. And someone is somehow supposed to choose among them?

 

So the comments that follow do NOT reflect a denigration of the Jeff Committee's efforts in selecting nominees, but merely observations about errors and omissions I concede to be inevitable.

 

Why would the Committee nominate the extraordinary Jessie Mueller for Best Actress in a Musical for Guys & Dolls and She Loves Me when her best work appeared in Merrily We Roll Along? Fortunately, with Mueller set to debut on Broadway in On A Clear Day . . . next year it will be the Tony Committee's turn to get it right. Or not. 

 

How could one nominate Tracy Letts as George but not Amy Morton as Martha in Virginia Woolf? Their performances were so perfectly in sync they were practically one person, just like their characters.

 

All of the nominees for director are strong, but if the award doesn't go to Robert Falls for his revolutionary rendition of The Seagull something's seriously wrong. And that reminds me: how could one overlook Mary Beth Fisher as Arkadina, unless nominating an actress for playing an actress seemed like cheating?

 

Similarly, Harry Groener's George III was simply in a class by itself, even with Terry Hamilton's Richard Nixon (from Frost/Nixon) in hot pursuit. And Chinglish is so much better than the other plays nominated for best new work that it should have its own category. (Apparently most of the distinguished work on new plays this year got done in the non-Equity theaters.)

 

Another entry in the everybody's-good-but-this-is-incomparable sweepstakes: Rick Sordelet's swordplay for Romeo and Juliet at Chicago Shakespeare, literally the best stage combat I've ever seen.  

 

Take a look at the list of nominees (below), and please come back with your own takes on what should be there that isn't, what shouldn't be there that is, and the whole process of comparing pomegranates and mangoes that constitutes award-giving in the theater.

 

2011 EQUITY JEFF AWARD NOMINEES

PRODUCTION – PLAY – LARGE

Chinglish - Goodman Theatre

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Heartbreak House - Writers’ Theatre

The Madness of George III - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The Outgoing Tide - Northlight Theatre

The Seagull - Goodman Theatre

Travels with My Aunt - Writers’ Theatre

 

PRODUCTION – PLAY – MIDSIZE

The Big Meal - American Theater Company

Frost/Nixon  - TimeLine Theatre Company

Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? - Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

The Importance of Being Earnest - Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

Scorched - Silk Road Theatre Project

To Master the Art - TimeLine Theatre Company

 

PRODUCTION – MUSICAL – LARGE

42nd Street - Marriott Theatre

Candide - Goodman Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company

A Chorus Line - Marriott Theatre

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess - Court Theatre

Monty Python's Spamalot - Drury Lane Productions

 

PRODUCTION – MUSICAL – MIDSIZE

The King and I - Porchlight Music Theatre

Merrily We Roll Along - The Music Theatre Company

The Original Grease - American Theater Company

 

PRODUCTION – REVUE

Shout! - Marriott Theatre

Sky's the Limit (Weather Permitting)- The Second City e.t.c.

 

DIRECTOR – PLAY

James Bohnen - Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? - Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

Dexter Bullard - The Big Meal - American Theater Company

Stuart Carden - Travels with My Aunt - Writers' Theatre

Louis Contey - Frost/Nixon - TimeLine Theatre Company

RobertFalls- The Seagull - Goodman Theatre

BJ Jones - The Outgoing Tide - Northlight Theatre

Pam MacKinnon - Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Penny Metropulos - The Madness of George III - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Leigh Silverman - Chinglish - Goodman Theatre

 

DIRECTOR – MUSICAL

David H. Bell - Hot Mikado - Drury Lane Productions

Gary Griffin - Meredith Willson's The Music Man - Marriott Theatre

Michael Halberstam - She Loves Me - Writers' Theatre

Mark Lococo - A Chorus Line - Marriott Theatre

Charles Newell - The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess - Court Theatre

William Osetek - Monty Python's Spamalot - Drury Lane Productions

Rachel Rockwell - 42nd Street- Marriott Theatre

Mary Zimmerman - Candide - Goodman Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company

 

ENSEMBLE

The Big Meal - American Theater Company

A Chorus Line - Marriott Theatre

Float - About Face Theatre

The Front Page - TimeLine Theatre Company

The Seagull- Goodman Theatre

Sky's the Limit (Weather Permitting) - The Second City e.t.c.

Travels with My Aunt - Writers' Theatre

 

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY

Brad Armacost (C.S. Lewis) - "Shadowlands" - Provision Theater

Brad Armacost (Jack) - "The Weir" - Seanachaí Theatre Company

Harry Groener (George III) - "The Madness of George III" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Terry Hamilton (Richard Nixon) - "Frost/Nixon" - TimeLine Theatre Company

Tracy Letts (George) - "Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Steppenwolf Theatre Company

John Mahoney (Gunner) - "The Outgoing Tide" - Northlight Theatre

Nick Sandys (Martin) - "Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?" - Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

Nick Sandys (Charles Condomine) - "Blithe Spirit" - First Folio Theatre


 

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL

Joe Kinosian (The Suspects) - "Murder for Two - A Killer Musical" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Michael Mahler (Freddy Benson) - "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" - Theatre at the Center

Geoff Packard (Candide) - "Candide" - Goodman Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company

Stephen Schellhardt (Ko Ko) - "Hot Mikado" - Drury Lane Productions

Alan Schmuckler (Officer Marcus Moscowicz) - "Murder for Two - A Killer Musical" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

 

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY

Karen Aldridge (Iris) - "The Trinity River Plays" - Goodman Theatre

Annabel Armour (Stevie) - "Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?" - Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

Jennifer Lim (Xu Yan) - "Chinglish" - Goodman Theatre

Lois Markle (A) - "Edward Albee's Three Tall Women" - Court Theatre

Sandra Marquez (Beatriz) - "26 Miles" - Teatro Vista and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

Rondi Reed (Peg) - "The Outgoing Tide" - Northlight Theatre

Kathy Scambiatterra (Princess Kosmonopolis) - "Sweet Bird of Youth" - The Artistic Home

Mary Ann Thebus (Mrs. K) - "The Piano Teacher" - Next Theatre Company

Karen Janes Woditsch (Julia Child) - "To Master the Art" - TimeLine Theatre Company

 

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL

Brianna Borger (Anna Leonowens) - "The King and I" - Porchlight Music Theatre

Elizabeth Lanza (Ann) - "Meet John Doe" - Porchlight Music Theatre

Megan McGinnis (Jerusha Abbott) - "Daddy Long Legs" - Northlight Theatre, Cinicinnati Playhouse in the Park, Rubicon Theatre Company, TheatreWorks, David Elzer and Executive Producer Michael Jackowitz

Jessie Mueller (Miss Adelaide) - "Guys and Dolls" - Marriott Theatre

Jessie Mueller (Amalia Balash) - "She Loves Me" - Writers' Theatre

 

ACTOR OR ACTRESS IN A REVUE

Tim Baltz - "Sky's the Limit (Weather Permitting)" -The Second City e.t.c.

Tammy Mader - "Shout!" - Marriott Theatre

Sam Richardson - "South Side of Heaven" - The Second City

 

SOLO PERFORMANCE

Barbara Robertson (Alice Conroy) - “The Detective’s Wife” - Writers’ Theatre


ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY

Ira Amyx (Noel) - "That Was Then" - Seanachaí Theatre Company

Lance Baker (Charlie Fox) - "Speed-the-Plow" - American Theater Company

Marc Grapey (Jerry) - "Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo" - Victory Gardens Theater

Francis Guinan (Gary) - "Rantoul and Die" - American Blues Theater i/a/w Stephen Eich, Don Foster, Stuart Ditsky/Adam Ditsky

Mike Nussbaum (Ben) - "Broadway Bound" - Drury Lane Productions

John Reeger (Captain Shotover) - "Heartbreak House" - Writers' Theatre

 

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL

Sean Blake (Sporting Life) - "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" - Court Theatre

Matthew Crowle (Patsy, Mayor, Guard 2) - "Monty Python's Spamalot" - Drury Lane Productions

James Earl Jones II (Uncle Henry, Lion) - "The Wiz" - Theatre at the Center

Ted Louis Levy (The Mikado) - "Hot Mikado" - Drury Lane Productions

Larry Yando (Pangloss and others) - "Candide" - Goodman Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company

 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY

Annabel Armour (Ann) - "Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo" - Victory Gardens Theater

Tracey N. Bonner (Woman 2) - "Home" - Court Theatre

Mary Beth Fisher (B) - "Edward Albee's Three Tall Women" - Court Theatre

Diane Kondrat (Bea Ball) - "The Gospel According to James" - Victory Gardens Theater

Elizabeth Ledo (Tam) - "The Homosexuals" - About Face Theatre

Diana Simonzadeh (Old Nawal, Nazira) - "Scorched" - Silk Road Theatre Project

 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL

Kate Garassino (Lady Thiang) - "The King and I" - Porchlight Music Theatre

Heidi Kettenring (Ilona Ritter) - "She Loves Me" - Writers' Theatre

Gina Milo (The Lady of the Lake) -"Monty Python's Spamalot" - Drury Lane Productions

Hollis Resnik (Old Lady) - "Candide" - Goodman Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company

Bethany Thomas (Serena) - "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" - Court Theatre

 

NEW WORK – PLAY

William Brown and Doug Frew - "To Master the Art" - TimeLine Theatre Company

Darren Canady - "Brothers of the Dust" - Congo Square Theatre Company

Philip Dawkins - "The Homosexuals" - About Face Theatre

Bruce Graham - "The Outgoing Tide" - Northlight Theatre

David Henry Hwang - "Chinglish" - Goodman Theatre

Patricia Kane - "Float" - About Face Theatre

Dan LeFranc - "The Big Meal" - American Theater Company

Caitlin Montanye Parrish with Erica Weiss - "A Twist of Water" - Route 66 Theatre Company


NEW WORK – MUSICAL OR REVUE

Tim Baltz, Aidy Bryant, Matt Hovde, Brendan Jennings, Jessica Joy, Michael Lehrer, and Mary Sohn - "Sky's the Limit (Weather Permitting)" - The Second City e.t.c.

Edgar Blackmon, Billy Bungeroth, Holly Laurent, Timothy Edward Mason, Katie Rich, Sam Richardson, and Tim Robinson - "South Side of Heaven" - The Second City

Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair - "Murder for Two - A Killer Musical" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Robert Morris, Steven Morris, Joe Shane and Matte O'Brien - "White Noise" - Holly Way, Jay Strommen, Jimmy Mack, Deborah Taylor/Chris Bensinger, Tom Leonardis and Whoopi Goldberg

 

NEW ADAPTATION – PLAY OR MUSICAL

Amanda Dehnert - "Peter Pan (A Play)" - Lookingglass Theatre Company

Laura Eason - "Ethan Frome" - Lookingglass Theatre Company

Sean Graney -"The Comedy of Errors" - Court Theatre

Jon Jory - "Sense and Sensibility" - Northlight Theatre

Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso - "Working" - Jed Bernstein, Dianne Fraser and Sheila Simon Geltzer

Mary Zimmerman -"Candide" - Goodman Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company

 

CHOREOGRAPHY

David H. Bell - "Hot Mikado" - Drury Lane Productions

Tammy Mader - "42nd Street" - Marriott Theatre

Tammy Mader - "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" - Drury Lane Productions

Matt Raftery - "Meredith Willson's The Music Man" - Marriott Theatre

Rachel Rockwell - "A Chorus Line" - Marriott Theatre

 

ORIGINAL INCIDENTAL MUSIC

Jenny Giering - "As You Like It" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Andrew Hansen - "In Darfur" - TimeLine Theatre Company

Andrew Hansen - "To Master the Art" - TimeLine Theatre Company

Lindsay Jones - "Romeo and Juliet" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

 

MUSIC DIRECTION

Roberta Duchak - "Monty Python's Spamalot" - Drury Lane Productions

David Kreppel - "Meredith Willson's The Music Man" - Marriott Theatre

Michael Mahler - "Hot Mikado" - Drury Lane Productions

Ryan T. Nelson - "A Chorus Line" - Marriott Theatre

Doug Peck - "42nd Street" - Marriott Theatre

Doug Peck - "Candide" - Goodman Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company

Doug Peck - "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" - Court Theatre


SCENIC DESIGN – LARGE

David Korins - "Chinglish" - Goodman Theatre

Jaqueline and Richard Penrod - "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison" - Lookingglass Theatre Company

Keith Pitts - "Heartbreak House" - Writers' Theatre

Collette Pollard - "Broadway Bound" - Drury Lane Productions

Todd Rosenthal - "Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" - Steppenwolf Theatre Company

 

SCENIC DESIGN – MIDSIZE

Robert Groth & Jenniffer J. Thusing - "The Weir" - Seanachaí Theatre Company

Tim Morrison - "Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?" - Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

John Musial - "Float" - About Face Theatre

Jaqueline and Richard Penrod - "The Importance of Being Earnest" - Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

Collette Pollard - "The Front Page" - TimeLine Theatre Company

 

LIGHTING DESIGN – LARGE

Christopher Akerlind - "As You Like It" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

John Culbert - "Romeo and Juliet" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Jesse Klug - "Monty Python's Spamalot" - Drury Lane Productions

Jason Lyons - "White Noise" - Holly Way, Jay Strommen, Jimmy Mack, Deborah Taylor/Chris Bensinger, Tom Leonardis and Whoopi Goldberg

Jaymi Lee Smith - "Virginia Woolf's Orlando" - Court Theatre

 

LIGHTING DESIGN – MIDSIZE

Brian Sidney Bembridge - "The Big Meal" - American Theater Company

Jeff Glass - "Sweet Bird of Youth" - The Artistic Home

Sarah Hughey - "Scorched" - Silk Road Theatre Project

Nic Jones and Jesse Klug - "In Darfur" - TimeLine Theatre Company

Keith Parham - "Frost/Nixon" -TimeLine Theatre Company

 

COSTUME DESIGN – LARGE

Mara Blumenfeld - "Candide" - Goodman Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jacqueline Firkins - "The Comedy of Errors" - Court Theatre

Jeremy W. Floyd - "Hot Mikado" - Drury Lane Productions

Susan E. Mickey - "The Madness of George III" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Nancy Missimi - "42nd Street" - Marriott Theatre

 

COSTUME DESIGN – MIDSIZE

Mina Hyun-Ok Hong - "Sunday in the Park with George" - Porchlight Music Theatre

Rachel Lambert - "Romeo and Juliet" - First Folio Theatre

Bill Morey - "The King and I" - Porchlight Music Theatre

Lindsey Pate - "The Front Page" - TimeLine Theatre Company

Melissa Torchia - "The Importance of Being Earnest" - Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

 

SOUND DESIGN – LARGE

Mikhail Fiksel - "Travels with My Aunt" - Writers' Theatre

Andrew Hansen - "Heartbreak House" - Writers' Theatre

Andrew Hansen - "The Outgoing Tide" - Northlight Theatre

Andre Pluess - "Virginia Woolf's Orlando" - Court Theatre

James Savage - "Murder for Two - A Killer Musical" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

 

SOUND DESIGN – MIDSIZE

Barry Bennett - "Hickorydickory" - Chicago Dramatists

Joseph Fosco - "The New Electric Ballroom" - A Red Orchid Theatre

Andrew Hansen - "In Darfur" - TimeLine Theatre Company

Andrew Hansen - "To Master the Art" - TimeLine Theatre Company

Peter J. Storms - "Scorched" - Silk Road Theatre Project

 

FIGHT / MOVEMENT DIRECTION

Matt Hawkins - "Peter Pan (A Play)" - Lookingglass Theatre Company

Nick Sandys - "Romeo and Juliet" - First Folio Theatre

Rick Sordelet - "Romeo and Juliet" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

 

PROJECTIONS / VIDEO DESIGN

John Boesche - "A Twist of Water" - Route 66 Theatre Company

Raj Kapoor - "White Noise" - Holly Way, Jay Strommen, Jimmy Mack, Deborah Taylor/Chris Bensinger, Tom Leonardis and Whoopi Goldberg

Aaron Rhyne - "Working" - Jed Bernstein, Dianne Fraser and Sheila Simon Geltzer

Mike Tutaj - "The Detective's Wife" - Writers' Theatre

Mike Tutaj - "Frost/Nixon" - TimeLine Theatre Company

Mike Tutaj - "In Darfur" - TimeLine Theatre Company

 

ARTISTIC SPECIALIZATION

Tracy Otwell - Toy Theatre Design - "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison" - Lookingglass Theatre Company

Melissa Veal - Wig and Make-up Design - "The Madness of George III" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

 

MULTIPLE NOMINATIONS BY THEATRE COMPANY

Goodman Theatre -17 (8 with Shakespeare Theatre Company)

TimeLine Theatre - 17

Marriott Theatre - 16

Drury LaneProductions - 15

Chicago Shakespeare Theater - 14

Writers’ Theatre - 13

Court Theatre - 12

Northlight Theatre - 8 (1 with Cinicinnati Playhouse in the Park, Rubicon Theatre Company, TheatreWorks, David Elzer and Executive Producer Michael Jackowitz)

Remy Bumppo Theatre Company - 8

American Theater Company - 7

Porchlight Music Theatre - 6

About Face Theatre - 5

Lookingglass Theatre Company - 5

The Second City e.t.c. - 4

Silk Road Theatre Project - 4

Steppenwolf Theatre Company - 4

First Folio Theatre - 3

Seanachaí Theatre Company - 3

Victory Gardens Theater - 3

White Noise Chicago, LLC - 3

The Artistic Home - 2

Jed Bernstein, Dianne Fraser and Sheila Simon Geltzer - 2

Route 66 Theatre Company - 2

The Second City - 2

Theatre at the Center - 2

 

BY PRODUCTION

"Candide" - 8

"Hot Mikado" - 6

"Monty Python's Spamalot" - 6

"The Outgoing Tide" - 6

"42nd Street" - 5

"The Big Meal" - 5

"A Chorus Line" - 5

"Chinglish" - 5

"Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?" - 5

"Frost/Nixon" - 5

"The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" - 5

"The Madness of George III" - 5

"To Master the Art" - 5

"Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - 4

"Heartbreak House" - 4

"In Darfur" - 4

"The King and I" - 4

"Murder for Two - A Killer Musical" - 4

"Scorched" - 4

"Sky's the Limit (Weather Permitting)" - 4

"Travels with My Aunt" - 4

"Float" - 3

"The Front Page" - 3

"The Importance of Being Earnest" - 3

"Meredith Willson's The Music Man" - 3

"Romeo and Juliet" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater - 3

"The Seagull" - 3

"She Loves Me" - 3

"White Noise" - 3

"As You Like It" - 2

"Broadway Bound" - 2

"The Comedy of Errors" - 2

"The Detective's Wife" - 2

"Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo" - 2

"Edward Albee's Three Tall Women" - 2

"The Homosexuals" - 2

"The Last Act of Lilka Kadison" - 2

"Peter Pan (A Play)" - 2

"Romeo and Juliet" - First Folio Theatre - 2

"Shout!" - 2

"South Side of Heaven" - 2

"Sweet Bird of Youth" - 2

"A Twist of Water" - 2

"Virginia Woolf's Orlando" - 2

"The Weir" - 2

"Working" - 2

 

BY INDIVIDUAL

Andrew Hansen - 6

Tammy Mader - 3

Doug Peck - 3

Nick Sandys - 3

Mike Tutaj - 3

Brad Armacost - 2

Annabel Armour - 2

Tim Baltz - 2

David H. Bell - 2

Joe Kinosian - 2

Jesse Klug - 2

Michael Mahler - 2

Jessie Mueller - 2

Jacqueline and Richard Penrod - 2

Collette Pollard - 2

Sam Richardson - 2

Rachel Rockwell - 2

Mary Zimmerman – 2