Best Visitation by an Actor 2004 | Ben Hammer, Visiting Mr. Green, Denver Center Theatre Company | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Ben Hammer is living proof that the Method approach to acting is still one of the most effective imaginable. His interpretation of the title character in Visiting Mr. Green was rich and grounded, and it made the production soar. Hammer was so deeply immersed in the character that he didn't have to say a word to communicate what he was feeling; his face and body did it for him. His silences expressed a world of pain, love and experience. In the play's very last scene, the set of Hammer's shoulders alone was eloquent -- even before he spoke the two quietly vibrating words that ended the evening.
Jamie Horton spent much of the past year working in New York, and from the moment he stepped on stage in John Brown's Body, we all realized how much we'd missed him. His John Brown was stunningly authoritative, a rock-hard, unreasoning, narrow, immovable, plainspoken man who seemed simultaneously contemptible and heroic. This larger-than-life characterization reminded us that historical heroes are often far from admirable; many are men who cannot entertain contradiction and who have an unshakable sense of their own implacable rightness.
In this excellent production, Randy Moore played Theodore Middleton, the schoolmaster husband of one of the sisters. Middleton was a boring man who had only to open his mouth to send the other characters fleeing. Nonetheless, he loved his mocking, angry, miserably unhappy wife. He even found his own odd little way of comforting her when she was prostrate with sorrow after parting with the man she really loved. Moore's portrayal of Middleton was solemn, touching and sincere with, every now and then, a moment of genuine, if muffled, tragic grandeur.
Claire is the shallow sister of the moody, brilliant heroine, Catherine, in David Auburn's Proof, and she could easily be played as the villain. But C. Kelly Leo brought the character to scintillating, multi-faceted life. Though you hated many of Claire's words and actions, Leo made sure you understood their source. You could tell this woman loved her crazy sister and venerated her father, but who wouldn't yearn for a conventional life after growing up with two family members who were so deeply and exclusively bonded to each other? Leo didn't downplay the character's banality, either. Her Claire masked concerns with a high-pitched voice and a smile like that of a professional airline stewardess. And she brought a terrific, controlled humor to the play. Not many actresses could bring down the house with the line "Maybe Hal would like a bagel?"
Last spring, William Hahn played Max in Martin Sherman's Bent, a harrowing drama that revealed the plight of homosexuals in Hitler's extermination camps. At the play's opening, Max lived for booze, cocaine and easy sex. By the second act, his lover had been beaten to death in front of him, and he was in Dachau. He began a friendship with another prisoner and, despite their circumstances, the relationship deepened. The men joked and argued; they even found a way to make love without touching. The play could be seen as an affirmation of the power of love, but that's not really how Hahn played it. He gave evil its due with a characterization that was both caustic and soul-deep, and the result was shattering.
In Three Tall Women, Patty Mintz Figel played a very old woman whose mind and body deteriorated in front of us. The woman was angry, paranoid, agitated, incontinent, ungrateful and hell to take care of. She rambled about the past. She was a racist, though she barely understood her own racist comments or the revulsion they aroused in others. Figel held nothing back as she portrayed this wretched soul sorting through her own ruined life. She whined and grumbled; she shook with palsy. Later, Figel played the same woman at a younger age, more poised but not a whit more likeable. It was a performance that took real courage.
Sarah Fallon's Katharina was the high point of the 2003 festival. Fallon has a wonderful voice, and she knows how to speak Shakespeare's verse. Funny, lithe and capering in her black, 1950s capri outfit, she made Katharina an appropriately angry little spitfire. But Fallon was also touching as she revealed Kate's growing love for Petruchio.
Picnic was a generally forgettable production, with disappointing performances from some of the leads. But playing a befuddled neighbor, Kathleen M. Brady showed just how powerful gentleness can be. Sure, her character was confused and sometimes downright dumb, but all of her instincts were true. She was kind to the young people and understanding with her bad-tempered, controlling neighbor, Flo. At one point, she told the play's young hero, Hal, that she'd made him a Lady Baltimore cake, and he gave her a grateful kiss. Her pleased, confused response was the sweetest moment of the evening.

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Many of the literati quarreled with director Donovan Marley over his decision to set the production of Chekhov's classic, The Three Sisters, in the American South in 1862. But somehow James Warnick's translation added resonance and implication while leaving intact the plight of the characters and the sense of a world trembling on the verge of transformation. The cast -- which included Bill Christ, Jamie Horton, Annette Helde, Jacqueline Antaramian, Keith Hatten, Randy Moore and Richard Risso -- was absolutely stellar, and the substitution of black slaves for Chekhov's servants added a frisson of uneasiness, even guilt, to our experience of the production. The set, costumes and lighting were also impeccable.
One of the great joys of Donovan Marley's The Three Sisters was watching Annette Helde and Jacqueline Antaramian working together. Both of these women are extraordinary actresses, and both project entirely different personae. Helde brought a profound gentleness to the oldest of the sisters, Alma, along with a stifled tenderness that illuminated the entire evening. As the unhappily married Marsha Anne, Antaramian was funny, fierce, bitter, staccato and eccentric. But when she finally gave in to her doomed feelings for her beloved Covington, the flood of emotion threatened to drown us all.

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