Denver Center Theatre Company

Elder Thomas is a nineteen-year-old Mormon missionary who visits the dying protagonist in The Whale, Samuel D. Hunter's play that premiered at the Denver Center Theatre Company this season. Through him, we learn a lot about the pull of Mormonism for some young people, and also quite a bit about how Mormonism operates. Elder Thomas returns several times to visit Charlie, both when he's welcome and when he's less so — and we discover that although he himself is brimful with concern and compassion, his faith remains punitive and judgmental. Cory Michael Smith showed both innocence and conviction in his performance, giving us a character who was no religious caricature, but a complex youngster with a troubled past.

Best Supporting Actor in a Shakespeare Comedy

Robert Sicular

Denver Center Theatre Company

In the Denver Center Theatre Company's production of The Taming of the Shrew, Robert Sicular played Katherine's much-put-upon father, Baptista, with silver-haired dignity. He showed us the man's blind fondness for prissy Bianca, and just how painful it was to have crazy, angry Katherine as a daughter. Baptista has to speak a lot of not-particularly-inspiring dialogue that does nothing much but carry the plot forward, but Sicular did so with clarity and insight — while still managing to be funny.

Best Supporting Actor in a Shakespeare Tragedy

Geoffrey Kent

Mercutio is one hell of a role, with some of the best speeches anywhere in Shakespeare. The trouble is that with all the productions of Romeo and Juliet, we've heard them all before. A lot. How does an actor make the long description of Queen Mab's nocturnal dream visits sound new? How does he approach the death scene, with its famous description of his wound — "not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve: ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man" — as if no one had ever done it before? In this Colorado Shakespeare Festival production, Geoffrey Kent's rendition of the former was a superb piece of playful invention, and rather than playing Mercutio's dying comments as a gallant attempt at humor, he forced the words out through progressively weakening bursts of rage and frustration. All in All, Kent's performance was a tour de force.

Curious Theatre Company

When Jessica Austgen is on stage, she's so full of life and originality that you can't take your eyes off her. In Collapse, produced by Curious Theatre Company, she played one of those neurotic, crazy, needy sisters who upends a shaky marriage. Clad in vivid rusts and oranges that perfectly accentuated her red hair and eccentric persona, Austgen squirmed on the sofa, practiced her stretches on a mat, spouted new-age truisms, wheedled, threatened and talked about her cat, Camille Paglia. She was as intensely narcissistic as she was utterly disarming.

Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind is bleak, fragmented and full of violence and rage. Just about every male in it is despicable, and it's up to the women to provide anything resembling a glimmer of redemption. We haven't seen much of Patty Mintz Figel on Denver stages this season, but every time she appears, we remember what a treasure she is — and she was certainly up to the challenge in the Paragon Theatre production of A Lie of the Mind. It may have been unclear how Meg, the long-suffering wife of a blindly brutal husband, put up with him, or what motivated some of her comments and actions, but what was crystal clear was the quality of truth and compassion that Mintz Figel brought to the role.

Barb Reeves is a veteran Boulder's Dinner Theatre performer with a number of strong characterizations to her credit. But in this BDT production of Slow Dance With a Hot Pickup, a gentle-hearted musical about a group of people competing to win a truck, she put something into her portrait of a harried waitress that we've never seen from her before. Her Marie was strong-minded but completely unsentimental. Reeves displayed a singing voice that could rock the house, but also a low-key sincerity that stayed with you long after the lights went out.

Best Supporting Actress in a Shakespeare Tragedy

Leslie O'Carroll

In the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production of Romeo and Juliet, Leslie O'Carroll's Nurse was a tough old peasant who was more than a match for a group of rudely teasing young aristocrats, but was also properly obsequious before Lord and Lady Capulet. She was also a woman who loved her charge, Juliet — but not so much that she'd give up job and security to defend her. O'Carroll brought a rough-edged humor to the show, filling her scenes with bawdy and sometimes poignant life.

Colorado Springs artist Sean O'Meallie managed to change deep-seated ideas about chairs in a single day. But it really took many months of hard work — planning, fundraising and chair-collecting — to bring the Manitou Chair Project to fruition. And it came off without a hitch last October, when about 700 chairs were lined up in a seemingly endless row down the middle of Manitou Avenue in Manitou Springs at dawn, though only a great deal of community input and volunteer work made it possible. The well-documented one-day event, kind of a downscale Christo installation by and for the people, also inspired a show of chair art at the sponsoring Business of Art Gallery in Manitou, and will live on as a marketing tool for the touristy town and artist enclave through a series of posters depicting the project's singular ripple in time.

Everything seemed to be going so well for Paragon Theatre Company. The small but ambitious group had celebrated its tenth year in 2011, and early this year moved into a new space specially constructed to its requirements. On this stage, Paragon had just opened a production of Miss Julie that earned excellent reviews, and we were looking forward to a season that included Martin McDonagh, Lanford Wilson, Conor McPherson and Denver playwright Rebecca Gorman O'Neill. And then came the sudden announcement that Paragon was closing its doors because it was stretched too thin financially and couldn't handle one more hassle with the city over codes and permits. And with that, another serious, important company was lost. We hope to see all of Paragon's talented performances back on local stages during the coming year, and until then have our memories — among them a sizzling Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf; Neil LaBute's evil-minded take on 9/11, The Mercy Seat; local playwright Ellen K. Graham's brain puzzler, How We May Know Him; some amazing Harold Pinter; the dreamy, eerie beauty of David Henry Hwang's The Sound of a Voice; and artistic director Warren Sherrill's performance in just about any role he ever took on.

Denver Center Theatre Company

Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer-winning Ruined is based on interviews that the playwright conducted in refugee camps with women from the Democratic Republic of the Congo — a lawless, bloodstained place where women are raped and mutilated by the thousands. She set the action in a whorehouse run by Mama Nadi, a raucous, tough-minded soul who both protects and exploits her girls. Despite the protagonists' desperate circumstance, the play is full of vitality, and even snatched moments of joy — and the Denver Center Theatre Company production caught this perfectly with a bright, evocative set; warm lighting; colorful costumes; a highly talented cast; and the pulsing, on-stage presence of a couple of talented musicians, Ron McBee and composer Keith E. Johnston.

Readers' Choice: Wicked

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