And the Robbie Award goes to…

It's that time of the year again, when playhouses are mostly dark and pretend awards take the place of real entertainment. This, the fifth Robbie Awards, is a black-tie event, so strap on your imaginary evening wear and take your make-believe seat. And remember: No text-messaging during the boring bits.

The Apparently It Won't Play in Peoria Award for Best Disappearing Act to . . . Off Center Productions

They wowed us with Speed-the-Plow, took on The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, then disappeared into thin air, leaving the McMillin Black Box Theater at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts without any edgy stuff to balance out its more conservative Theater Works season. Okay, so tiny troupes come and go all the time, but Off Center Productions had us excited with its pedigree (founders Wes Martin and Rob Evans have worked with everyone) and its oddball first-season lineup. Then these guys bailed without so much as a fare-thee-well. Which is, perhaps, better than having to watch another company scramble to save itself by doing trash just to stay afloat. Bon voyage, Off Center.

The Swinging Noose Award to . . . Shannon Whirry for Best Impersonation of a Line Drawing in iTheatre Collaborative's Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad

One takes a mighty risk when one attempts Arthur Kopit's absurdist farce, which mocks the form even as it honors its deeply weird possibilities. Fortunately for local theatergoers, iTheatre Collaborative is not above taking risks and, even better for us, was brave enough to cast the beguiling Shannon Whirry in Oh Dad's lead role. As Madame Rosepettle, she appeared to be channeling both silent-era Gloria Swanson and that infamous line drawing of Cruella DeVille, pacing the stage like a loaded lynx, bugging out her eyes and bellowing Kopit's crazy dialogue like a crazed shrew. No other actor got anywhere near her grand performance all season long.

The Lars Lindstrom Award for No-Show Entertainment to . . . Cloris Leachman in Cloris!

Okay, so Cloris Leachman was still "workshopping" her one-woman show when she brought it to the new Tempe Center for the Arts last February. But no one possessing as much talent as Our Cloris should have turned up in such a completely dreadful concoction as Cloris!, during which La Leachman paced the stage trying to find her place in a script that should have been overflowing with fabulous anecdotes about Leachman's marvelous career in theater, film, and television. Instead, this mishmash of memories and new material (including a befuddling video clip in which Leachman spoofed those "senior living" commercials) merely confused an audience expecting to hear bits of what we're sure has been a fascinating life. Alas.

The Martin Chuzzlewit Honorarium to . . . Childsplay's A Tale of Two Cities

Adults brought children to what they surely expected to be a dumbed-down version of the Charles Dickens classic. Surprise! Ticket holders could easily have left the tots at home, as Dwayne Hartford's adaptation was almost too smart for children — one among many reasons to admire this stunning world première, which featured Jon Gentry dressed in a Phil Spector-esque fur vest and Prince Valiant wig, and a sublime performance from Debra K. Stevens.

The Big Pink Eraser Award for Best Attempt at Repackaging Pretense to . . . Nearly Naked Theatre for Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses involves a full-size swimming pool right on stage, a costly effect that wasn't enough to pump up Mary Zimmerman's waterlogged translation of Ovid's 3,000-year-old myths. The show sucked the style right out of Greek mythology with over-obvious narration and a rather profound earnestness. Artistic director Damon Dering worked his usual theater magic, paying for the pool and finding the actors to fill it, but the result was a weak dog paddle of a play that lacked production values, attractive set design, and engaging acting. Sad, especially because this company often wows us.

The Manuella Needhammer Award for Worst Wig in a Worthwhile Production to . . . Arizona Theater Company's To Kill a Mockingbird

In the lead role of Scout, 12-year-old Daria LeGrand was a marvel. But what was that awful thing on her head? We're blaming the unnamed wig mistress from Kansas City Repertory Theater, with whom Arizona Theater Company co-presented this largely successful adaptation, for the scene-stealing bowl-cut that nearly swallowed diminutive Daria whole and made her look like a refugee from an Osmond family reunion circa 1977. Gadzooks.

The North Valley Day Care Center Award for Rudest Audience Member Ever to . . . That Little Tart in the Yellow Dress at Desert Stages' South Pacific

She sat mostly in the lap of her male companion and spent the evening not watching Anny Franklin wash that man right outta her hair, but rather text-messaging and yawning extravagantly as the performers emoted mere feet away. This teen commercial for bad behavior wins not only the Robbies' deepest antipathy but the first-ever audience award, to boot.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela