News Column

Ten Bay Area stage actors we love

September 30, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 30--There's no people like show people.

While theater represents the ultimate in collaborative art, with costumes, scenery, makeup and props all playing a key role, nothing is more essential to the magic of the stage than the alchemy of the actor.

Here in the Bay Area we are lucky to have a legion of consummate thespians who dedicate their lives to the wicked stage despite long hours, short pay and the constant tug of more commercial genres. Indeed, there are so many amazing actors trodding the boards right now that picking our favorites amounted to one of the hardest lists we've ever tried to compile.

But perhaps that's all the more reason to celebrate these heroes of regional theater. Meet 10 actors we love. These are all masters of the craft, actors who inhabit their characters so fully they seem to disappear into the universe of the play. They also have a knack for shining so brightly they make even a dull show sparkle like a diamond.

James Carpenter

Why we love him: The dean of the Bay Area theater scene, Carpenter brings such gravitas to every role he plays that he can morph from Shakespeare and Scrooge to Frankenstein's monster without missing beat. After gracing every stage from American Conservatory Theater and Berkeley Rep to San Jose Rep, the actor is beloved by audiences and critics alike. The rigor he brings to his craft, the way he burrows down into the quirks and cracks of a psyche, makes him such a revelation onstage. Among the many unforgettable parts he has played, his hypnotic performance in Pinter's "The Homecoming" at the Aurora will never fade from memory. The estimable actor is also a regular at Cal Shakes, where he recently closed "Lady Windemere's Fan."

Next up: He's starring in "Next Fall" at San Jose Rep (Oct. 17- Nov. 10) and then comes his perennial turn as Ebenezer in ACT's "A Christmas Carol" (Dec. 6-28).

Rod Gnapp

Why we love him: A veteran of the stage, Gnapp has emerged in recent years as a pillar of the Magic Theatre company. The dazzling eccentricity and depth of his performances is what makes this actor stand out. You may not recognize him from one play to the next as he inhabits each part like a chameleon, but the incendiary edge is always there. Recent triumphs include the crazed writer with the penchant for nudity in "Annapurna" at the Magic, the twisted psycho Carmichael in "A Behanding in Spokane" at San Francisco Playhouse and the grizzled Sam Shepard patriarch Dodge in the revival of "Buried Child," playing through Oct. 6 at the Magic.

Next up: He stars in "Storefront Church" at San Francisco Playhouse (Nov. 26-Jan. 11). Next year, he's also starring in "Every Five Minutes" at the Magic Theatre (March 26 to April 20)

Amy Resnick

Why we love her: Resnick has the magic touch for making us laugh but also capturing the truth of human frailty. From the feminist scholar in "Body Awareness" at the Aurora to the flaky yoga fanatic in "Collapse" at the Aurora and the quirky heroine in "Dead Man's Cellphone" at SF Playhouse, she has total commitment to every part she plays. She's got enough sparkle to stand out even in mundane productions. She's as flat-out funny as you would expect Zero Mostel's cousin to be, but more importantly she's an astute observer of human nature who is never afraid to dive into the unknown and risk looking foolish to deliver the best performance ever. A veteran of the Josh Kornbluth canon ("Haiku Tunnel"), she recently starred in "Sea of Reeds" at Shotgun Players as well as "Good People" at Marin Theatre Company.

Next up: She and Kornbluth plan to revive "Sea of Reeds" at San Francisco's Jewish Community Center in January.

Sean San Jose

Why we love him: It's hard to match Sean San Jose for sheer electricity onstage. One of the founders of San Francisco's edgy Campo Santo theater, he's an actor that explodes inside his characters. Celebrated for the AIDS drama "Pieces of the Quilt," he can leap from Octavio Solis ("Santos and Santos," "Se Llama Cristina") to Nassim Soleimanpour ("White Rabbit, Red Rabbit") and Denis Johnson ("Soul of a Whore") with the same intensity. A joy as the underdog in Culture Clash's "American Night" at Cal Shakes this summer, San Jose knows just how to blow the audience away.

Next up: He's starring in Luis Alfaro's "Alleluia, The Road," (Nov. 1-17) as part of the Califas project, a collaboration between Cal Shakes and Campo Santo at San Francisco's Intersection for the Arts.

Craig Marker

Why we love him: This up-and-comer has a boyish face and a quick wit that has made him shine in everything from the warrior Xerxes in "The Persians" at the Aurora to a pizza delivery dude in "The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow" at San Jose Rep. A wonderfully clueless bad boy in Neil LaBute's "Reasons to be Pretty," Marker has emerged as one of the young MVPs of the regional theater scene.

Next up: He's digging into the mysteries of Rajiv Joseph's "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" at SF Playhouse, Oct. 1-Nov. 16. After that, he's starring in "Clybourne Park" at Walnut Creek's Center Repertory Company (Jan. 31-March 1) and in the spring, he'll be getting his "Game On" at San Jose Rep (March 27-April 19).

Margo Hall

Why we love her: Unstinting authenticity is Hall's trademark. Whether she's playing a glam diva or a gangsta, Hall is equally ferocious onstage. A member of the Campo Santo collective, she has also sparkled in plays as diverse as "Trouble in Mind" at the Aurora, "The (Expletive) With the Hat" at SF Playhouse and "Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet" at ACT. She recently bopped through a memorable roster of small but choice turns in "American Night" at Cal Shakes.

Next up: Hall is playing Paulina in "The Winter's Tale" at Cal Shakes (through Oct. 20). She's also starring in "Be Bop Baby" at the Z Space Nov. 19-23.

Beth Wilmurt

Why we love her: Wilmurt is a singer/actor/choreographer/shape-shifter who seems utterly transformed from part to part. She's equally mesmerizing as the doomed Tennessee William heroine in "Eccentricities of a Nightingale" at the Aurora and the Brechtian narrator/muse in "Woyzeck" at Shotgun Players. Over the years, she has emerged as a pillar of the indie theater scene and a frequent collaborator with director Mark Jackson ("Death of Meyerhold," "Io, Princess of Argo.") A talent for movement, the way physicality informs character, is among her strong suits. Her virtuoso "two-minute Hamlet" from "Meyerhold" was poetry in motion. Her musical theater chops also heighten the hallucinatory quality of her performances, which never stint on emotional candor, insight and pungency.

Next up: She's trying her hand as a director for "Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness" (Dec. 4-Jan. 12) at Berkeley's Shotgun Players.

Stacy Ross

Why we love her: Intelligence is the hallmark of this indomitable actress. From the monstrous Lady Macbeth and the mysterious Mrs. Erlynne in "Lady Windemere's Fan" at Cal Shakes to the fiercely heroic mother in "Terminus" at Magic Theatre, Ross attacks her roles with a trenchant understanding of the text as well as gift for living in the moment. She can play the villain or the victim, the ingenue or the dowager, while always seeming true to the world of the play. A master of the classical impulse, she's also a champion of new voices and daring experiments. Her tragic duet with James Carpenter in Linda McLean's "Any Given Day" at the Magic was the kind of raw, real and poetic performance that won't soon be forgotten.

Next up: She's performing in Jacob Marley's "Christmas Carol" at Marin Theatre Company (Nov. 21-Dec. 15.)

Mark Anderson Phillips

Why we love him: Rubber-faced and inventive, this estimable actor often forces you to check the program to make sure it's really him up onstage. From the title role in "Faust" at San Jose Rep to the ego monster director in "Small Tragedy" at the Aurora and the musical genius in "Opus," he brings a depth of feeling and boundless sense of curiosity to all his parts. Fresh off a run in the regional premiere of "Good People" at Marin Theatre Company, he's busier than ever.

Next up: He's getting his Scrooge on in "A Christmas Carol" (Dec.12-22) at Center Repertory Theatre and then performing in the world premiere of Taylor Mac's "Hir" (Jan. 29-Feb. 23) at Magic Theatre.

Carrie Paff

Why we love her: A startling combination of steel and vulnerability mark all of Paff's roles, from the wronged wife in "This is How it Goes" at the Aurora to a series of small but memorable parts in "The Other Place" at the Magic. The honesty she brings to a range of styles, eras and genres is what has made her a go to actor in recent years. Among her many gifts, the ability to capture the wistfulness of life through a smile that breaks your heart.

NEXT UP: She's starring in "Ideation" at San Francisco Playhouse (Nov. 13-Dec.7).

Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her stories at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza and follow her at www.twitter.com/KarenDSouza4.

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