June 23--It's not every day that Hamlet must face down a family of zombies, or a corrupt president of the United States finds himself challenged by a pair of Dust Bowl-era drifters.
But that is the case with the fifth annual Tulsa Awards for Theatre Excellence, which will be awarded at a ceremony Sunday.
Sunday's event will also include the presentation of the Distinguished Artist Award to actor Wes Studi and the Mary Kay Place Legacy Award to American Theatre Company artistic director Kitty Roberts.
Fourteen plays, ranging from Shakespearean tragedies to original surrealist epics, are up for the $20,000 in total prize money.
And when it comes to the TATE awards, the play is very much the thing. The George Kaiser Family Foundation, which underwrites the awards, created the program to help encourage and support nonmusical theater in Tulsa. Only in the Outstanding Youth Production category, awarded to productions with student-age casts, are musical productions eligible for the award.
The winner of Outstanding Production will receive $10,000, with the runner-up getting $5,000 and the third place winner receiving $2,500. The Outstanding Youth Production winner receives $2,500.
It's not the Tulsa World's policy to review youth performances, so we will just say that Shakespeare has a good chance of winning, as Clark Theatre submitted its production of "Love's Labour's Lost" and Odeum Theatre Company put its "Hamlet" up for consideration. Clark also submitted its staging of Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth" for the award.
As for which of the 11 shows up for Outstanding Production will win the top prize, we have no idea. But here's a bit of what the Tulsa World had to say about the original productions.
'Warm Delicious Play' by John Cruncleton III
Directed by John Cruncleton III
Midwestern Theatre Troupe
"Conventional theater is not what the Midwestern Theater Troupe is about. This company is about challenging conventions in ways that are more antic than anarchic. One of the ways this theatrical philosophy is expressed is through Cruncleton's scripts that take ancient stories and characters and gleefully upending them. ... 'Warm Delicious Play' may not completely cohere into a tasty theatrical dish, but one can't help but admire the diligence of its preparation and the fineness of many of its ingredients."
'Be a Good Little Widow' by Bekah brunstetter
Directed by Erin Scarberry
"The cast ... has infused this plain, obvious little drama with a deeply felt emotional power that elevates this show into being something truly special. What makes it work is the sincerity and openness of the cast, the honest, unadorned way they present these characters."
'Any Day Now' by Nat Cassidy
Directed by Robert S. Walters
"Cassidy's writing is so sharp, Robert Walters' direction so precise and the cast's performances so startlingly life-like that this play holds one's attention like a vise. It has its shocks of horror and hilarity. ... But 'Any Day Now' delves into a great many deeper, more challenging issues, raising questions about religious ideas, political motivations, the uncertainties of science, the damage that fear and hate can inflict."
'Hamlet' by William Shakespeare
Directed by Whitson Hanna
Odeum Theatre Company
"This production ... succeeds so well at aiming a few new shafts of light into the much-examined dark corners of this drama. Hamlet is by necessity the smartest person in Elsinore, but (actor David) Lawrence informs that intelligence with an awareness that every action he takes exacts a tremendous emotional toll. This is a Hamlet on a very human scale, one who can envision not only whatever trickery he needs to do to keep himself alive, but also the consequences of those actions."
'November' by David Mamet
Directed by Randall Whelan
"The play has its problems. ... Yet director Randall Whalen and his cast endeavor to do all they can to smooth the play through these less-than-easy transitions, with performances that -- no matter how outrageous the situation -- hew as closely as possible to the party line of naturalism. ... The language of 'November' isn't as stylized as some of Mamet's work, but it still has a unique music to it that (leading actor Mike) Pryor sings convincingly."
'Tuesdays with Morrie' by Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Martha Cherbini
"Actors Tom Berenson and Freddie Tate give this story of a callow younger man and his terminally ill mentor a quietly captivating depth and resonance."
'Time Stands Still' by Donald Margulies
Directed by Frank Gallagher
" 'Time Stands Still' has a similar structure to Margulies' 'Dinner With Friends.' ... But this play goes deeper, confronting just about every attitude one might have toward the business of portraying war. And Heller's production ... does an exemplary job of telling the story, through sympathetic yet unobtrusive direction and some stellar performances by actors who make the interactions of these four characters sharp and real."
'Radio Golf' by August Wilson
Directed by Rodney Clark
" 'Radio Golf' is ... about putting up facades, about turning over one's past for someone else's idea of the present. And it falls to the character Sterling to keep pointing that out -- whether through his 'resume' of places he's fixed, his formation of his own union, or his way of dealing with the bag of contraband golf clubs. (Andre) Grayson has such a command of this character that he energizes every scene he's in."
'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck
Directed Dan McGeehan
American Theatre Company
" 'Of Mice and Men' may be the perfect distillation of Steinbeck's work -- in the simplicity of its story, in the directness of its emotional content, in the carefully stylized language used to tell it. All these qualities are apparent in the American Theatre Company's production ... (which takes) an almost reverent approach to this material, with a stately pace and a deliberate tone. ... It also makes the moments when violence erupts more disturbing because it means another small, fragile thing like a dream is about to be destroyed."
'Boeing-Boeing' by Marc Camoletti
Directed by Vern Stefanic
"One of the joys of farce is anticipating just how everything that seems too perfect is going to come unraveled. Suffice it to say that Richie Goss' set design incorporates seven doors, through which the characters pass -- or in some instances, block passage -- in increasingly frenetic ways ... so that even the most outrageous physical action seems logical."
'Clean' by the 50 Swats Writing Collective
Directed by John Cruncleton III
Midwestern Theatre Troupe
" 'Clean' ... is a collection of inconclusive monologues and unresolved scenes that present a kind of fragmented picture of one woman's tormented and tormenting memories. It's best to approach 'Clean' ... as the makings of a collage. How you put these disparate pieces together and whatever image or story or idea the results might produce -- if any at all -- is entirely up to you."
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
(c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)
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