I Was Robbied

Any second now, the nice folks over at the ariZoni Awards will start handing out bowling trophies to anyone who's come within three feet of a theater stage this season. Therefore, welcome to the Second Annual Robbie Awards, which celebrate actual accomplishments — and acknowledge some really low points — in local theater. And sometimes, judging by how often this past season the mention of a Robbie win turned up in an actor's playbill bio, they're even mistaken for real awards!

The Maria Ouspenskaya "What's in a Name?" Award for Best Theater Job Title to . . . David Salcido, Artist Theatre Project's "Master of Hoopla and Revels"
Every theater, big and small, has a flack whose job it is to alert the media about its upcoming production. But few local companies have as efficient a media rep as this bitty troupe, and none wears its sense of comedy so proudly on its sleeve. The hoopla and revels are not always worth shouting about (although the company's oft-remounted production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch was certainly grand enough), but Salcido is definitely a master at getting the word out.

The Marge Champion Award for Most Annoying Use of Modern Dance in a Musical to . . . Nearly Naked Theatre's production of The Who's Tommy
Yet again, Damon Dering and company created a stunning, slightly sleazy night's entertainment, this time with a show that was arguably way too big to have succeeded so well in such a small space. It's a tribute to the cast and crew of this take on Pete Townshend's rock opera that the annoying (and endless!) gyrations of Scorpius Dance Theatre didn't sink the entire production, which shone around (and sometimes from behind) the dance company's moderne acrobatics. See me, feel me, touch me, heal me — but please, no pirouettes.

The Stanislavski Be Damned Award for Best Ensemble Acting to . . . iTheatre Collaborative's Death and the Maiden
Director Charles St. Clair did more than make careful sense of Ariel Dorfman's difficult political thriller; he turned it into a compelling character study with sharp directional choices and by assembling what was simply the best cast of the entire season. Lillie Richardson ran the gamut from mad housewife to clever conspirator; Mike Traylor was letter-perfect as her befuddled but complicit husband. And Steven Scally, tied to a chair throughout, enacted rage and fear and hatred with just his face and his proximity to a stunned audience. It didn't get better than this all season.

The Cleavon Little Award for Most Shameful Waste of Talent to . . . Phoenix Theatre's The Women
One would have thought, with the number of talented actresses assembled by director D. Scott Withers — no slouch himself — for this remount of Clare Booth Luce's famous comedy, that the result would have been a topnotch laugh fest. On the contrary, The Women sagged like mad, proving that even our best talent can flounder. Robyn Allen, in the lead, failed to capture our sympathy as the put-upon Mary Haines. Cathy Dresbach pinched off a series of uninspired ensemble roles. Even Lillie Richardson fell flat as bitchy Sylvia Fowler; she didn't act so much as show off in scene after scene. It appeared that Withers told his ladies, "Forget about acting — get out there and steal scenes!" In which case, Withers deserves accolades of his own.

The Everything Shoulda Gone Wrong Award for Most Unlikely Theater Triumph to . . . Desert Stages Theatre's A Man of No Importance
There were so many reasons this relentless Scottsdale troupe's winter show should have flopped: its subject matter (gay Dubliner lives to produce Oscar Wilde plays); its prerecorded score (always an iffy proposition with any musical performance); KatiBelle Collins in a supporting role. But director Jim Carmody brought a tiny village to big life on the smallest stage in the history of local theater, thanks to a sparkling cast, some wise blocking, and a tremendous amount of love for the material. What's more, Collins' performance as a frowsy townie was lovely enough to cancel out what she did onstage last year in Menopause: The Musical — an award-worthy accomplishment in itself.

The Evelyn Varden Award for Most Anticipated Production of Next Year to . . . iTheatre Collaborative's upcoming The Bad Seed
It can't be true, but apparently it is: Little Rhoda Penmark is at last coming to town, and Claude Daigle (as well as anyone who doesn't love the famous film version of this rarely produced melodramatic hoot) had better beware. The pants of high-camp fans have undoubtedly been soiled over news that actor/playwright Neil Cohen will don dirndl and blondined braids as our "Rho-da!" and that he'll be reunited with Disney's own Kirby Holt as Mrs. Daigle. Rosemary Close will discover — right before our eyes! — that she's the mysterious Ingo Danker, and Greg Lutz will impersonate Henry Jones (and Frank Gorshin!) as excelsior-loving Leroy the Handyman.

Word is that former punk icon Robert X. Planet will direct as well as design costumes and sets for this too-good-to-be-true Bad Seed, set to open in May 2007. As if all this weren't enough, the pivotal role of Monica Breedlove will be played by Paul "Mr. Whitecat" Braun, thus marking his return to the stage after a several-decades-long absence. Now that's something worth waiting for.

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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