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The best in Richmond's live theater for 2000.

Best of the Boards


It's not often that I wish Richmond were a bigger town. But as I sit here pondering the past year in local theater, I think about how great it would be if Richmond had a Drama Desk or a Critic's Circle or some other professional panel doling out "best of" awards. Stage artists here deserve that kind of rigorous evaluation and legitimate acclaim. Unfortunately, the number of theatergoers who see most of the local professional productions would hardly complete the points of a triangle, let alone fill out a circle. I could name the following "awards" after my cat or my late Aunt Marge. I could list "nominations" and foster an illusion that there was some meticulous process involved in making the selections. But basically, what follows are my opinions. They are opinions forged through my attendance at more than 50 local stage productions this year, but even so, they're hardly objective. Still, I offer them as the only gift I can give to some of the great theater professionals who have entertained me during the year 2000. And I'll continue to dream of presenting a plaque at a fancy awards banquet instead of just these meager words. Straight Plays and Comedies Best Play
All of my selections in the straight-play category came down to two leading contenders. TheatreVirginia's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" edged out "Gross Indecency" at the Barksdale, not because the production was appreciably better but because August Wilson's amazing narrative is wholly original, emotionally bracing and enchantingly mystical. Director Kent Gash's skillful direction didn't hurt a bit either. Best Director
Here I have to give the nod to Richard St. Peter, director of "Gross Indecency," over Gash. St. Peter took material less compelling than "Joe Turner" and elevated it to near parity. He cast outstanding actors, drew great performances out of them and orchestrated some of the year's best theatrical moments with this play. Best Actor
Foster Solomon made a hell of a "Hamlet" in the Richmond Shakespeare Festival production this past summer. But Scott Wichmann in "Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop" is one performance that still sticks with me nearly a year after the show ran as part of Theatre IV's Theatre Gym series. With his dozen scintillating characterizations of losers and leftovers in the human race, Wichmann brought a vitality to the stage I haven't seen in a long time. Best Actress
The always-interesting Stephanie Kelly made the most of a golden opportunity to shine in "Buried Child" at the Firehouse Theater last spring. But while Kelly is a great actress, Jen Meharg deserves recognition for the best performance this year for her wickedly comic portrayal of a murderous office manager in the Richmond Triangle Players' "The Secretaries." Like Anthony Hopkins in the film "Silence of the Lambs," Meharg elevated psychotic behavior to sublime new levels. Musicals Best Musical
Several delectable musicals graced Richmond stages this year but none was as tasty as "Sweet Charity" at the Barksdale. This show had everything: a kick-ass cast where even dance hall girls were played by top-notch actresses, memorable music, an interesting story and an impeccable design. Director Randy Strawderman expertly maneuvered through a menagerie of moods in this scrumptious production. Best Director
Once again, I have to give credit to a director whose show may not have been the best of the year. With "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" at Theatre IV, John Glenn took what can be little more than a nice kid's show and made it a true charmer for all ages. His ripped-from-the-funny-pages vision came across beautifully. Best Musical Director
This was my hardest choice because the most memorable alternatives are Paul Deiss' handling of the unfamiliar score of Swift Creek Mill's "Floyd Collins" and Ruth Winters' work with the easily recognizable music from "Sweet Charity." Can we just call this a tossup? Best Actor
Though Swift Creek Mill's production of "Floyd Collins" suffered from a somewhat stagnant story, Matt Reeder soared as the title character. Playing a trapped spelunker, Reeder was forced to project his emotions almost entirely through his face and voice. The versatile actor made this liability an asset, turning in a perfectly pitched performance. Best Actress
Julie Fulcher was the cherry on top of the delicious confection that was "Sweet Charity" at the Barksdale. Her character was a cliché that's been done to death — the dance hall girl with a heart of gold — but Fulcher infused the role with a vivacious spirit and emotional honesty. Design Costumes
Robin Armstrong put together a dazzling lineup of outfits for the dance hall girls of the Barksdale's "Sweet Charity." But it's hard to compete with TheatreVirginia. David Crank's costumes for "The Heiress" demonstrated once again that nobody can dress up a period drama like TVa. Lighting
William H. Grant III took center stage with his otherworldly lighting for "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" at TheatreVirginia. Set
It was a good year for interesting sets, from the subterranean landscape of the Mill's "Floyd Collins" to the bold lines and colors of Theatre IV's "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." But Austin K. Sanderson did the most impressive work with his finely detailed set for "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" at TVa. Sound
There might have been better sound designs that I didn't notice, which perhaps is what the directors wanted. But I noticed the sound design Steve Austin put together for the Richmond Triangle Players' "The Secretaries," and it was an often-wacky compliment to the dark madness of that show. Finally, Theatre IV deserves special technical recognition for its seamless integration of video and live action in its production of "And Then They Came For Me." Being able to see and hear interviews with actual Holocaust survivors added layers of power and meaning to this stirring

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