Just a nod or two to the theater artists whose contributions enriched the theater year 2015.
In a year of some uncommonly strong work, the performance that stood out the most for me was John Douglas Thompson's Ira Aldridge — the first black actor to play Othello on a major London stage — in Shakespeare & Company's "Red Velvet." Thompson more than delivered in a performance that was both as large as it needed to be and, at the same time, intimate and nuanced. This was an affecting, poignant, at times, delightfully whimsical portrait of a man whose consummate professionalism, revolutionary approach to his art, and ingenuous belief in the ability of theater to change lives and move people proved to be both his strength and his vulnerability. Thompson got it all and then some.
• Honorable mention — Joey Collins as the icy, quietly menacing and manipulating Lenny, the quintessential power broker, in Berkshire Theatre Group's "The Homecoming." On its surface, this was such a remarkably contained portrayal — lean, economical. But, as played so meticulously and penetratingly by Collins, Lenny's presence in the room, even when he was saying or doing nothing, was palpable. Formidable and memorable.
• Also noteworthy (in order of being seen) — Jonathan W. Colby, "Nexus" (Hubbard Hall); David Schramm, "Butler" (Barrington Stage Company); Jeff McCarthy, "Man of LaMancha" (BSC); Ed Dixon, "Man of LaMancha" (BSC); David Adkins, "Thoreau, or "Return to Walden" (Berkshire Theatre Group); Graham Rowatt, "Bells Are Ringing" (BTG); Daniel Jenkins, "A Little More Alive" (BSC); Michael Tacconi, "A Little More Alive" (BSC); Blair Underwood, "Paradise Blue" (Williamstown Theatre Festival); Erik Lochtefeld, "Unknown Soldier" (WTF); Derek Klena, "Unknown Soldier" (WTF); Will Swenson, "A Moon for the Misbegotten" (WTF); Glynn Turman, "A Moon for the Misbegotten" (WTF); Mark H.
Hands down, for me, the most outstanding performance of 2015 was Tod Randolph's Zelda Kahn in "The How and the Why" at Shaksespeare & Company. There is such economy and subtle detail in Randolph's work. Her tones, her rhythms, her pacing, her timing are all part of a whole, rarely more so than here as a scientist who has fought hard to reach the widely respected position she's reached in her profession; who's made hard choices and who, over the course of this play, has to deal with some of them again at a point in her life at which she has come to terms with her journey. No sentimentality, no melodrama in this hugely giving and generous performance. Just the truth.
• Honorable mentions — Tara Franklin in an astonishing, mature, exquisitely unsettling performance as a wife who comes to terms — and odd terms they are — with her husband's nastily dysfunctional family on her first meeting with them in "The Homecoming" at BTG; Kate Baldwin, who lit up the summer sky as the engagingly optimistic and good-hearted Ella Peterson in BTG's "Bells Are Ringing"; Jessica Phillips in a memorable, beautifully crafted performance as Ellen, a woman looking to unlock a family mystery in the haunting new musical "Unknown Soldier" at WTF; and Kelly Curran in a masterly display of subtext and nuance as Ellen Tree in "Red Velvet" at Shakespeare & Company; and Audra McDonald in a fresh, revealing portrayal of Eugene O'Neill's earthy Josie Hogan in "A Moon for the Misbegotten" at Williamstown.
• Also noteworthy (n order of being seen) — Emma Jackson, "Nexus" (Hubbard Hall); Bridget Saracino, "The How and the Why" (Shakespeare & Company); Mary Wiseman, "Off the Main Road" (WTF); Ariana Venturi, "I Saw My Neighbor on the Train and I Didn't Even Smile" (BTG); Nicolette Robinson, "A Little More Alive" (BSC); De'Adre Aziza, "Paradise Blue" (WTF); Clara Young, "Unknown Soldier" (WTF); Jane Pfitsch, "His Girl Friday" (BSC); Peggy Pharr Wilson, "His Girl Friday" (BSC); Amanda Quaid, "Engagements" (BSC); Therese Plaehn, "Blink" (Chester Theatre Company); Deborah Hedwall, "An Opening in Time" (Hartford Stage); Eileen Schuyler, "4000 Miles" (Capital Repertory Theatre); Doria Bramante, "Babylon Revisited" (Ark Theatre); Kate Levy, "Third" (TheaterWorks).
Leading the field for me was Eric Hill's remarkable work on Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming," a play that always has been hugely problematic for me. Not this time. Thanks to Hill's work, this was a revelatory production in every way.
Honorable mentions — Daniela Varon hit the heights with her brilliantly conceived and executed "Red Velvet"; and Trip Cullman, whose vision and insight made the accomplished new musical, "Unknown Soldier," at Williamstown Theatre Festival, a singular achievement.
• Other especially noteworthy direction (in order of being seen) — David A, Snider, "Nexus" (Hubbard Hall); Nicole Ricciardi, "The How and the Why" (Shakespeare & Company); Sheryl Kaller, "A Little More Alive" (BSC); Ruben Santiago-Hudson, "Paradise Blue," (WTF); Gordon Edelstein, "A Moon for the Misbegotten" (WTF); and Donald Marcus and Anthony Nikolchev, "Babylon Revisited" (Ark Theatre).
•Lucy MacKinnon — projections for "Unknown Soldier."
• Ted Marcus, Alexa Green and Rudi Bach — digital technology and cinematics for "Babylon Revisited."
Caite Hevner Kemp — projections for "A Little More Alive."
• Patrick McCollum — choreography for "Unknown Soldier"; also Jesse Perez for "The Comedy of Errors" (Shakespeare & Company) and Parker Esse for "Bells Are Ringing" (BTG).
• Marco Paguia — music direction for "Unknown Soldier"; also Darren Cohen ("Man of LaMancha"), Joel Fram ("Bells Are Ringing") and Vadim Feichtner ("A Little More Alive").
• lighting designers Ben Stanton ("Unknown Soldier)" and Solomon Weisbard ("The Homecoming").
• set designers Mark Wendland ("Unknown Soldier") and Reid Thompson ("The Homecoming").
• costume designers Clint Ramos ("Unknown Soldier") and Moria Sine Clinton ("Red Velvet").