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Full of 'Heart'


Neither the best of times nor the worst of times, 2012 had its moments in metro theater.

Larry Laneer December 26th, 2012


The Tempest

1. The theatrical event of the year was hardly a play and barely was produced.

Nevertheless, Dustin Lance Black’s 8 boasted wonderful acting and able staging (by Stephen Hilton) at the Freede Little Theatre under the auspices of the Oklahoma Theatre Guild, a loosely formed coalition of state theater companies and individuals.

The play depicts the federal trial over California’s Proposition 8. Black, who wrote the screenplay for Milk, created the script from the trial transcript and other contemporaneous sources.

Hilton’s staged reading included minimal, but highly effective, scenic and lighting design, and a first-rate cast that ranged from Matthew Alvin Brown to Tyler Woods. Nothing is as dramatic as real life, so a topical story performed by top-drawer actors is appealing and engaging theater.

It would be something to see this cast together in a play, but the costs would be astronomical, even if planets aligned just right so that all 21 of them were available at the same time.

2. A few actors from 8 also appeared in the year’s best play, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s The Normal Heart. I still can’t figure out why this was the first Oklahoma staging of Larry Kramer’s 1985 drama about the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

Theatergoers may disagree about the script — overly didactic, some say — but virtuoso acting and sure-handed direction by René Moreno made this 2012’s theatrical high point.

Spring Awakening
3. Michael Jones’ sharp direction made The Tempest the highlight of Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s season. Jones assembled a terrific cast, including Hal Kohlman, David Mays and Ben Hall.

4. Speaking of fine acting, some of the best was seen at Carpenter Square Theatre (CST). Starting the year with a punch in the gut, A Steady Rain, well directed by Linda McDonald, featured seasoned pros Mike Waugh and Ben Hall as miscreant Chicago cops. The production effectively engaged the imaginations of audience members.

5. CST’s Distracted by Lisa Loomer dealt starkly with the challenges faced by a family with a child who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Mona Campbell was tremendous in the demanding role of the mother.

Equally appealing was young Ian McDougall, who had just finished seventh grade when he played the afflicted boy. Some scenes involving McDougall included disturbing, realistic dialogue, and his performance holds up in comparison to any actor all year.

6. Among its many enterprises, the Chickasaw Nation is now a theatrical angel, producing Te Ata by JudyLee Oliva, about the eponymous Native American storyteller.

Staged at Oklahoma City University’s Burg Theatre, it included an excellent performance by Tana Takes Horse as the young Te Ata.

7. It was an unusually weak year for musicals, an exception being Lyric Theatre’s Spring Awakening at the Plaza. Solid direction by Michael Baron, an outstanding young cast and design that successfully combined period costumes with a modern set and lighting made this 2012’s best musical.

8. Matthew Alvin Brown reprised the title role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch for Oklahoma City Theatre Company at the Freede Little.

He’s been playing Hedwig in various productions since 2002 and gets better with age. The excellent Renee Anderson slouched her way through the show as Yitzhak.

A Normal Heart
9. Theatergoers should remember our college and university theaters, where you’ll see some top-notch work. The University of Oklahoma’s Avenue Q would be envied by professional companies. This musical consists of pretty lightweight stuff, but I can’t remember when I’ve had so much fun at the theater.

10. Originally produced at the University of Central Oklahoma, Flipside: The Patti Page Story was seen again this year in a brief revival at UCO. Written by Greg White and still in need of editing, it tells the story of one of the most important recording artists of the last century.

The musical included fine performances by Lindsie VanWinkle in the title role and Haley Jane Pierce as Page when she was known as Clara Ann Fowler, back in the Oklahoma town of Claremore.

 
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