We're a town lousy with theater awards: the ariZonis, the Scotties, the Milties and the Tilties. Chris Page at the Tribune has his Spotlight Awards, and even Mark Turvin hands out something called The Fishy Awards, which sounds sort of -- well, you can finish that thought yourself, can't you?
I've tried to restrain myself but, as another sunny theater season draws to a close, I'm tossing my chapeau into the awards ring, too. Welcome, then, to the Robbie Awards, a program designed to do what the other awards programs don't do: sneer and heckle and, sometimes, actually applaud what actually took place on stage this year.
Of course, since this is a theater awards program, there's nepotism (one of the honorees is a former New Times employee) and, because I'm the one handing out the awards, an unreasonable amount of derision. Enjoy.
The Michael Jackson Award
. . . for Best Performance As a Man Who Is Not an Animal
Dion Johnson in The Elephant Man
With little more than his stance, the twist of his head and hand, and the most subtle theatrical diction, Mr. Johnson quietly slipped away with TheatreScape's swan song last November. Although Johnson gave his John Merrick an annoying vocal tic that sounded as if he'd swallowed a metronome, it didn't distract from his fine performance, one that proved that he's capable of more than the musical comedy fluff he's usually assigned.
The Who Did You Sleep With To Get This Role? Award
. . . for Worst Casting in Any Local Production
KatiBelle Collins in Menopause the Musical
A full year after appearing onstage as Earth Mother in this wildly unfunny musical revue, Ms. Collins still reigns supreme. Her amazingly awful turn as an ex-hippie (who, despite an inability to sing or dance, has more solos than the other, more talented cast members) still burns, like an especially nasty infection, in the memories of Phoenix theatergoers.
The Christopher Wynn is a Man, Dammit! Award
. . . for Best Performance in a Transgendered Role (Tie)
Neil Cohen in The Maids
Maria Amorocho in Nickel and Dimed
Mr. Cohen played a lady as if to the manner born, making a rather tricky assignment -- playing high-camp Genet in heels and a wig while also upstaging the likes of punk maven Lucy LaMode -- seem simple. Amorocho was no slouch, either, playing both Hector, a sleazy Denny's line cook with hairnet and cholo accent, and a crotchety Alzheimer's patient as if she'd lived as each of these guys for a lifetime.
The Well, You're No Meryl Streep Award
. . . for Most Bungled Foreign Accent
The cast of Molly Sweeney
Would that director Christopher Haines had allowed his cast to drop their "Irish" accents altogether in this sleepy Brian Friel story about a blind lass and the dreary fellers in her life. As it was, the players' purloined burrs and brogues merely added to an already tiresome evening of theater.
The Ladimir Kwiatkowski Award
. . . for Best Performance by a Yank Playing a Brit
Ben Tyler in Sight Unseen
His castmates all but vanished whenever Tyler opened his mouth to speak, and not only because his accent was so dead-on. As a droll but dreary archeologist, Tyler found belly laughs in mildly amusing bits of dialogue and made his character's sharp left turn at the end of the play all the more spectacular and unaffected.
The Lisa Fineberg Award
. . . for Most-MIA Local Actor
Michelle L. Gardner
She's turned up on a pile of network TV shows -- Six Feet Under, Judging Amy, Joan of Arcadia -- but where we'd most like to see La Gardner is on one of our local stages. We're delighted that she's doing so well in Hollywood, for which she abandoned her hometown several seasons ago, but would it be too much to ask for an occasional return engagement? Nick Glaeser and Bob Sorenson, both of whom blew town for the Great White Way, have each returned this past season to tread local boards. Where (for) art thou, Michelle?
The Hey, Let's Try To Sneak Out at Intermission! Award
. . . for the Show Most Entirely Lacking
Koko! The Island Adventures of Miss Koko Neufchatel
You'd never know that David Maxey's trio of monologues about a drag queen castaway is actually amusing and well-written if you'd only ever seen Artists Theatre Project's badly bungled production in April. Leading lady Doug Loynd obviously spent more time applying glittery lip-gloss than he did studying his script, leaving both Koko and her audiences hopelessly adrift.
The Brunhilde Award
. . . for Best Set Design by a Woman Who Married a Dramaturge
Alicia Marie Turvin for Hurlyburly
Even if it didn't always open and close properly, the massive swinging door that anchored Turvin's stationary set for this show was some kind of a marvel. The split-level Hollywood apartment of a bunch of sleazeball television writers was not only well-appointed but built on a shoestring, making hers an even more impressive triumph.
The Ruth Beaumont Award
. . . for Set Design Above and Beyond
Robert X. Planet for In My Humble Opinion and The Maids
This past season Planet, a former window dresser turned punk-rock kingpin (and former New Times employee), expertly recreated the interior of Durant's Restaurant for Terry Earp's bio about everybody's favorite small-time gangster, Jack Durant, that was accurate right down to the faux-velvet walls and a vintage cash register borrowed from the Durant's vault. Mere months later, he built a staggeringly elegant drawing room for iTheatre Collaborative's Genet revival that was so well-dressed, audience members were heard pleading with Planet for decorating tips after the show.
The Ouch! My Ass Hurts! Award
. . . for Least Comfortable Seating in a Local Playhouse
The Space Theater
Management at this tiny storefront theater on Central Avenue would do better to replace its hinged and stickily upholstered seats with boxes of gravel. Any theatergoer with buttocks will tell you: Sitting on the floor would be less uncomfortable than perching on what passes for seating at The Space.
The I Can't Believe It's Not Better Award
. . . for Most Disappointing Production
Glengarry Glen Ross
You'd think, with both John Sankovich and Steven J. Scally in the cast, that TheatreScape's Glengarry Glen Ross would have been a sure thing. Alas. Although Sankovich and Scally turned in their usual sterling performances, the rest of the cast couldn't keep up. Christopher Mascarelli's capable direction didn't help, and most audience members left baffled rather than entertained.
Until next season!
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Phoenix art and theater scene.