Auld performance, ne’er forgot

SN&R’s stage critics weigh in on the 2011 season

It’s unanimous—Janis Stevens is the deserving diva of the year.

It’s unanimous—Janis Stevens is the deserving diva of the year.

Get four critics in a room—or on an email chain—and the only unanimity you’re likely to get is a general loathing for Cats. Seriously. One song and two-dozen furballs.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to review it this year. But we did have a bundle of bright spots on the theater scene worth noting, in no particular order, and not always unanimously.

Let’s start on the one unanimous vote: Our overwhelming choice for the performance of the year goes to Janis Stevens in her role as the ultimate diva, opera singer Maria Callas, in Master Class at Capital Stage. Stevens is a gem, both as actress and a director (she directed Jackie Vanderbeck, also a contender for this nod, in The Belle of Amherst at Sacramento Theatre Company while starring in Master Class).

Other noteworthy performances include Jessica Berkey in Big Idea Theatre’s Proof; Joseph Boyette in The Diviners at California Stage; Jammy K. Bulaya in Superior Donuts at Capital Stage; Benjamin T. Ismail and Kristine David in The Compleat Female Stage Beauty at Big Idea Theatre; Adrian Roberts and Eric Aviles in Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at Capital Stage; and Kelley Ogden in Jean Anouilh’s Antigone by KOLT Run Productions.

Of course, it’s no surprise that those shows also top the list of productions worth remembering from a memorable season. We’d like to send a special note of thanks to Big Idea Theatre for a very well-planned season which challenged ideas about gender and identity from open (The Compleat Female Stage Beauty) to close (Twelfth Night) with fantastic interpretations of plays that focus on what it means to be male, female, or a little bit of both. Resurrection Theatre trod some of that ground as well, with Macbeth, Resurrected, featuring a young and ambitious woman (Tygar Hicks) as the bloody Scot and turning Lady Macbeth (Margaret Morneau) into a nightmarish version of Mommie Dearest, under the direction of Benjamin T. Ismail.

And Big Idea—with shows like The Pillowman and Proof—shares with Capital Stage—Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, Or and Superior Donuts—a big congratulations on showing guts in a down economy. It’s all too easy to play it safe when times are tough, but these companies—the former a community group and the latter a professional troupe—really know how to stretch and take risks.

Along those same lines, it’s past time to congratulate the B Street Theatre on a season full of theater for the thinking class. With productions like Equivocation, Freud’s Last Session and God of Carnage, B Street provoked some thought and stirred up some conversation.

We’re still thoroughly enamored of the offbeat musical productions—from New Helvetia’s delightful Little Fish to the weekly fun at Graham Sobelman’s Graham-A-Rama cabaret show—but had far fewer of these gems than we’d like this year. So consider this a challenge: If any talented collection of aficionados can bring musical theater into the 21st century, Sacramento’s singers, dancers, choreographers and directors certainly can; we’ve got the chops for it.