2011's best and brightest


BEST ACTRESS

Fanni Green

No need to fly to New York for professionalism when the spectacularly talented Fanni Green is on stage in Tampa. A member of USF’s theater faculty with extensive stage, film and TV credits (and great stories about working with the likes of Vanessa Redgrave and Joe Papp), she made her area professional debut this season in Jobsite’s Yellowman. In a wrenchingly authentic performance, she showed us how a girl becomes a woman, a country mouse becomes a city mouse, and a self-hating Southerner becomes a self-confident Northerner. Here’s hoping this teacher gets lots more opportunities to teach us what good acting’s all about. (She’s also a writer and director; see Best Dance Performance on p. 50.)

BEST PLAY

Yellowman

Jobsite Theater’s production of Dael Orlandersmith’s play was so honest, it hurt. As directed by the prodigiously talented Karla Hartley, Fanni Green and Jim Wicker were dark-skinned Alma and “high yellow” Eugene, African Americans trying to navigate intra-racial prejudice in late 20th-century South Carolina. Can theater really be cathartic? Yes — and luminous.

BEST ACTOR

Paul Potenza

The Odd Couple (staged last February at Jobsite) would hardly seem a vehicle for outstanding acting, but Paul Potenza brought the character of Felix Unger to a level of existential despair that was both hilarious and deeply authentic. This cleanliness-obsessed sad sack had been to the edge of the abyss and wasn’t the better for it. But we in the audience surely were. (And he just keeps turning in memorable performances; in Jobsite’s current production of The Guys, he is utterly convincing as a NYC fire captain trying to come to terms with the loss of his comrades in 9/11.)

BEST DIRECTOR

Eric Davis

As director of all freeFall Theatre’s shows since the move to its new venue, Eric Davis has shown a remarkably versatile talent. He gave us the silliness of The Frogs, the dead-seriousness of Miss Julie, the magic of Midsummer Night’s Dream and the melancholy bravado of Man of La Mancha. Is there any kind of show he can’t direct?

BEST THEATRE COMPANY

American Stage and freeFall (tie)

How could you pass up either of these terrific theaters this year? American Stage brought us a scorching Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, an intense Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and a wonderfully intelligent Opus. FreeFall offered a brilliant Midsummer Night’s Dream, a rare chance to see Strindberg’s Miss Julie, and an audience-immersing, perfectly cast Man of La Mancha. Bravo to them both.

BEST ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

Todd Olson

You’ve got to be grateful for what Olson’s done at American Stage. Not only does his mainstage continues to offer first-class work. Beyond that, he’s added the Cabaret, the Sunday Improvs featuring the brilliant Hawk and Wayne, the After Hours series of eccentric theater pieces, and the staged reading series “Hot Off The Press.” And he directs!

BEST REASON TO FINALLY EXHALE

Stageworks moves
into its new home

After years of preparation, many missed deadlines and even more fundraising speeches, Anna Brennen’s new Stageworks venue in Tampa’s Channel district finally opened its doors in August with David Friedman’s Listen to My Heart. For those of us who have followed this theater from the Falk to HCC to the Shimberg, this was truly a night to remember.

BEST REASON TO STAY IN THE BAY AREA

freeFall Theatre’s new campus

Hard as it was to believe, Eric Davis and Kevin Lane actually bought a city block on Central Avenue, opened one versatile theater space within it and prepared to open another, even larger one. If they get everything on their wish list, we Bay area theater lovers will eventually have a major repertory company in our midst. Go for it!

BEST NEWS FOR SHAKESPEARE FANS

The Bard returns to area stages

So what if there’s no more Shakespeare in the Park? Last year area theatergoers saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream at freeFall, Twelfth Night (with the wonderful Brian Shea) at the Eckerd Theater Company, and The Taming of the Shrew at Jobsite. With The Comedy of Errors coming up at freeFall, and Love’s Labours Lost at the St. Petersburg Shakespeare Company, the Bard is definitely back.

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