By NANCY HERMANN
Courtesy Tulsa PAC
I’m still smiling after the Tulsa Awards for Theatre Excellence held recently. is only three years old, but already an institution. People with the George Kaiser Family Foundation came up with this idea to promote and reward quality non-musical theatre in Tulsa. Every performance season, a panel of theatre mavens sees the nominated plays at venues around the city and votes for the best. The top prize is $10,000. I don’t know whether our local theatre groups planned to do more “straight plays” anyway, or whether the cash prizes were an incentive, but over the last three years there has been a notable increase in non-musical theatre. And the plays are good. Really good.
I know you are familiar with Theatre Tulsa and American Theatre Company (). They have performed at the since it opened in 1977. won the top prize last year for its perfect presentation of 12 Angry Men. To a man, every performance was golden. The year before, Theatre Tulsa, the oldest community theatre west of the Mississippi, took home the top for Up the Down Staircase. Between these two dynasty theatre groups and Heller Theater, Midwestern Theater Troupe, Theatre Pops, Theatre North and Odeum Theatre Company, there were many productions during the last performance season that lifted local theatre to a new level.
That being said, it was a real coup for Playhouse Tulsa to take both first and second honors. Playhouse’s September 2010 Macbeth was prize-worthy for sure. Chris Crawford in the title role showed us moral dissolution in a character whose lust for power seamlessly transforms him from a butter knife into a bloody razor.
Several years ago I interviewed the late Tyrone Wilkerson, who was one of those from the Tulsa theatre community eulogized in a stirring tribute during the presentation. When Chris Crawford was a student at , Wilkerson auditioned him for ATC’s Bat Boy: The Musical. Wilkerson said Chris’ superb acting and singing startled him then. Chris has since lived and worked in New York City, returned to Tulsa, and with Courtneay Sanders, a chilling Lady MacBeth, started The Playhouse Tulsa.
Although I was out of town for Playhouse’s Shining City, which took the second place , I did see the company’s Love Song, which is not a musical, last season. It was quirky and well acted, as was The Great Trailer Park Musical. Both excellent. Playhouse’s House and Garden, presented at last year’s SummerStage, comprised two plays happening simultaneously in adjoining theaters with interconnecting characters and story lines. It wasn’t eligible for nomination, but it was a triumph.
There no disputing that The Playhouse Tulsa brought their game last season.
Another group that reeled me in was Odeum Theatre Company. If there were “Best Acting” awards, the entire Odeum Company would be nominated. I’d go anywhere to see Leslie Long perform, and I’ll have to next season when Odeum moves its performances from the to new locations. Leslie in Bug was insanely wonderful, as was Whitson Hanna. Reasons to be Pretty jumped out of the performing space and grabbed you by the throat. Swimming in the Shallows was a hoot. David Lawrence is a deft actor. We have so many thoughtful, skilled actors among us, which are as good as I’ve seen anywhere.
I’m buzzing about some of the best of the best from the shows I’ve seen last year because, if you aren’t already, I want you to be a theater patron next season. Subscription packages are on sale through the individual theatre companies, and single tickets become available closer to the actual show dates. The , celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, is especially thrilled to see such an exciting range of theatre waiting in the wings.
There’s still time to catch a Playhouse Tulsa offering. I highly recommend the ultra-hilarious Moonlight and Magnolias, (July 21-24) about the writing of the screenplay for Gone With the Wind, and there are several more SummerStage to enjoy before the festival draws to a close.
I think people go to the theatre for different reasons. Sometimes we want light, happy music or a funny show. We leave the theatre with a good feeling and that’s enough. Other times we want something to chew on. Mull over. Dissect. Internalize. That can be fun in its own way, like solving a puzzle. Fortunately we have both in Tulsa and they deserve even bigger audiences.
Nancy Hermann is Director of Marketing for the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.