By Larry Laneer
December 15, 2020
So, what’s to review? Theater has suffered as much as any industry during the pandemic, and that doesn’t seem to be changing much anytime soon. But a number of our much-appreciated theatrical artists made do and made drama and music as best they could. Some productions, therefore, were noteworthy, and we’ll hail those. Only categories with outstanding work are included. Thus, some categories may not appear this year. Categories (may) include work recognized as “Highly Commended.” This designation is analogous to a nomination in the category. While maybe not the best in the category, work cited as highly commended is worthy of special recognition. This year, some of the categories had to be improvised, too. Here are the outstanding achievements in 2020 theater:
Best Play: Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years (Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma). This play had no competition to speak of, and it would be interesting to see where it ranked in a normal theatrical year. But that shouldn’t take away from recognition for a well-staged, designed, and acted memoir about two remarkable Americans.
Best Touring Musical: Come From Away (OKC Broadway). This is a fairly rare category, but it would be churlish pass on this delightful musical set on and after September 11, 2001, in Gander, Newfoundland. The show is not strictly a musical comedy, but it had more genuine humor than most that work hard to be funny.
Highly Commended: Miss Saigon (OKC Broadway).
Best Direction of a Play: Michael Baron and Ashley Wells (A Christmas Carol, Lyric Theatre). Baron and Wells had a lot of people—including the audience—to maneuver over a large, outdoor area. They made it work.
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play: Nikki Mar (Romeo and Juliet, Oklahoma Shakespeare). Mar was one of the main reasons the second act of this production were some of the year’s best moments of theater. Theatergoers look forward to seeing more of this outstanding young artist.
Highly Commended: Terry Burrell and Julia Lema (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, Lyric Theatre).
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play: Renee Krapff (Romeo and Juliet, Oklahoma Shakespeare). As Nurse, Krapff nailed both the comedy and tragedy in the role and the play.
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play: Hal Kohlman (Romeo and Juliet, Oklahoma Shakespeare). As Friar Lawrence, Kohlman, along with Krapff (see above), was a major reason for some success in this wildly uneven production.
Best Scenic Design of a Play: Debra Kim Sivigny (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, Lyric Theatre). Sivigny imagined in teeming detail the sisters’ tidy, comfortable home in a New York City suburb.
Best Costume Design of a Play: Jeffrey Meek (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, Lyric Theatre). Meek’s costumes fit so seamlessly (no pun intended) into the production they were hardly noticeable. That’s effective costume design.
Best Something Different: Pollard Theatre Company Plugged In (Pollard Theatre Company). The company’s artistic director, W. Jerome Stevenson, conducted video interviews of some of our leading theatrical artists. The interviews were in the style of James Lipton of television’s Inside the Actors Studio. It was a pleasure to get to know the personal stories of artists whose work we’ve seen for years.
Best Getting Something Going When We’re Starved for Live Performance: Moonlight Cabaret (Lyric Theatre). Lyric staged three musical revues at the Water Stage in Myriad Gardens. The different casts and musical directors, all Lyric regulars, put on in-person shows which were a welcome restoration of live performance.
Best Adaptation to the Circumstances: A Christmas Carol (Lyric Theatre). Lyric figured out a way to adapt its highly successful indoor production into an outdoor production, done at the Harn Homestead in Oklahoma City. It worked, and some moments were outstanding.
Best Sixty-one Minutes of Theater: The second act of Romeo and Juliet (Oklahoma Shakespeare). Featuring excellent performances (see above), the second act made theatergoers wonder what went wrong with the first act.
Best Special Theatrical Event: Theatre Crude Fringe Festival. The pandemic turned the fringe festival, which made a fine debut last year, into a film festival. Some were highly edited in cinematic style, while others more-or-less filmed their stage shows. It worked well when watching them “live,” but I had problems trying to view archived videos later. The most memorable was Naked Brunch, written and performed by Rodney Brazil, a harrowing autobiographical account, which inspired me to reread William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch.
One thing theatergoers have learned during the pandemic is this: while video efforts have been far better than nothing, they suffice only temporarily. For theater, you have to be in the room where it happens.