Over the years, Erik Edborg has provided us with a number of memorable characters, whether he's moping in a curly wig as Cinderella or attempting to slide a roll of toilet paper under a door. He's always been hilarious in a goofy, hyperkinetic way, but in the last couple of years he's also stretched his range to try very different characters -- some of them quite intense and subdued. He played several roles in this year's Winter in Graupel Bay, but the best was Toothy Bill, a drunk with a kick-stamp walk, wolfish grin and quietly poetic soul.
Williams's Talk to Me Like the Rain is more a tone poem than a play, a small, wistful piece between a woman and a man who has just returned to her after a several-day absence. Urged by him to speak, she launches into a long monologue beginning, "I want to go away. I want to go away." The woman imagines herself living in a town by the sea, growing older and more frail until she dwindles to almost nothing and is blown away by the wind. Trina Magness has a beautiful voice and a feeling for language. In her mouth, the speech sounded like a solitary flute or the thin, sad strains of Erik Satie. She played the role with such feeling -- now and then emitting a burbling, demented little laugh -- that what could have been an exercise in self-pitying solipsism became a lament for the essential isolation of every human being on earth.
In this taut political play, written by an Israeli playwright, the first Intifada is covered from the perspective of a Palestinian family. Ami Dayan, who also directed, played the older of three brothers, Da'ud. This man was hardly likable. He was a compromised character, tough and clear-eyed, willing to shift, bargain, bully, do whatever it took to survive. As blame flashed among him and his brothers, it was hard to find the play's moral center. As an actor, Dayan has a strength and authority that's rare in this area, and he is committed to using his art to explore some of the most urgent questions of our time.
We've seen Mare Trevathan, one of the region's best actresses, far too little in the past few years, but her presence in what was essentially a cameo role galvanized Aphrodisiac, a play about a congressman and his mistress. Trevathan played Monica Lewinsky, and it was a tribute to her talent and conviction that the performance didn't evoke a thousand snickering late-night jokes. Blinking continuously, her Lewinsky was dopey but also somehow deep -- or at least full of emotion. When she spoke of her feelings for Bill Clinton and described how she wept on his chest after he'd refused to give himself fully by coming in her mouth -- because his attention was focused on his chair in the Oval Office -- we finally understood the tightness and intricacy of the sex-power knot.
Josh Hartwell is one of those intelligent, convincing actors who are never flashy but bring a low-key integrity to every role they play. As interpreted by Paragon, Hedda was almost a black comedy, a kind of nineteenth-century Heathers, but Hartwell's Tesman brought a depth and kindness to the evening. The character is usually played as a rambling, irritating bore, and while Hartwell was as blithery as the script required, there was also something concerned and sweet, a kind of suppressed awareness, flickering beneath his obtuse exterior.
With the theater's skilled performers having all kinds of fun with the nugatory plot and animating Gershwin's fabulous songs with their fine voices, Crazy for You was an evening of pure froth and fun. Scott Beyette was a lithe, leaping, tapping wonder as Bobby, a young man trying to revive an old theater out west and win the heart of a skeptical local lass. In furtherance of his plan, Bobby impersonated impresario Bela Zangler. When A.K. Klimpke as the real Zangler arrived in town, he and Beyette mimicked and mirrored each other's astonished reactions in a priceless extended sequence of mime.
Aldonza is the peasant wench that Don Quixote insists is his beloved Dulcinea. Jean Arbeiter, a fine singer and actress, made her so dirty and fierce, so angered by Quixote's fulsome praise ("Once, just once, would you look at me as I really am?") that when she finally capitulated, singing gently to the dying old madman, it was hard to hold back tears.
Among many fine performances in musicals this season, Geoffrey Kent's Officer Lockstock stood out. It's a very clever, funny role as written, and Kent played it with relaxed authority: He made the officer-narrator stiff-necked and formal, but every now and then threw in a moment of pure gyrating lunacy.
The best comics actually get inside their characters; no matter how outrageous the people they play, they force themselves to believe every idiotic word and gesture. Think of the rich gallery of characters created by Carol Burnett and Tracey Ullman. Genevieve Baer is in this camp. She's a very talented mimic (as well as a good singer), but the best thing about her portrayal of Little Sally in Urinetown was that she resisted the temptation to parody a part that's pure parody itself, making the character part knowing street kid, part wistful innocent and altogether funny and watchable.
Leonard Barrett is a tremendously appealing actor whose jazz-singing background shows in his work; there's always something improvisational and unexpected about it, and also a hint of hidden depths. There's kindness and humor, too. As Norman in Bas Bleu's The Dresser, Barrett's job was to get an egotistical actor whose mind and career were both waning on to the stage as King Lear. A fussy, sad clown with a will of iron, Norman's entire life was wrapped up in the old actor's career. In another extraordinary performance, Barrett played the Stage Manager in PHAMALy's Our Town, a role that calls on the actor to speak directly to the audience. It wasn't that Barrett breached the fourth wall, exactly, but that when he spoke, it simply wasn't there. There was just the actor talking quietly, humorously and profoundly to your very soul.

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