Best Performance by an Actor in a Shakespeare Play

Ben Bonenfant in Henry V

No contest here. Benjamin Bonenfant was magnificent in the role of Henry V, one of those complex figures that can be interpreted in many ways. Henry's been played as a hero on a white horse, the embodiment of England's patron saint, St. George. But that ignores some of his uglier actions, as well as the unnecessary war of conquest he initiates. Bonenfant managed to embody all these contradictions fully, and it was enthralling to watch him going through the king's changes of mind and heart. Bonenfant's Henry was so original, right, tough, supple and intelligent that he made the role entirely new.

Best Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Shakespeare Play

Geoffrey Kent in Othello

Geoffrey Kent's Iago was hands down the best reason to see the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's Othello last summer. Iago is the epitome of slithering, whispering evil, the barely human creature who brings down the majestic Othello and his innocent wife, Desdemona. Kent made him complex, living the role moment by moment in front of our eyes, showing an infectious joy when his manipulations were going well and displaying honest puzzled calculation when he met an obstacle. Shockingly, he charmed the audience so thoroughly that we almost forgot how hideous Iago's soul was. "It's like working on a suicide-prevention hotline, as volunteers in Seattle once did," we wrote at the time, "and discovering that the nice young man working beside you is Ted Bundy."

Shakespeare is known for his amazing women — women of strength, wit, humor, clever calculation and steadfastness in love — and Rosalind, the heroine of As You Like It, may be the pearl among them. Sent into exile by a scheming duke, she disguises herself as a youth and courts Orlando, the man she loves, by pretending to advise him on women. Speaking not in verse but in a quicksilver prose that rushes and eddies like a running brook, she soon has him dazzled. Graceful and lovely, Carolyn Holding did this brilliant role proud. On her tongue, the speech felt at home, and she alternated between giddy girlishness and natural dignity.

Best Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Shakespeare Play

Emily Kron in As You Like It

Phoebe in As You Like It is an unattractive, self-deluding country girl, held up to scorn by others for her rejection of the faithful shepherd Silvius. She provides one of those comic Shakespearean interludes that sometimes mildly amuse and sometimes irritatingly interrupt the main action. Not when Emily Kron played the role, though, taking it in both hands and shaking it to vivid life. With her dark hair and blazing eyes, Kron's Phoebe was unforgettable: blindly and stupidly in love with herself, impermeable to insult or rebuke.

Karen Slack's performance in the title role of Medea was large enough to allow for myriad interpretations. She was alternately achingly human and vulnerable and profoundly evil. There are few actors around with the power to fully embody a role as large as this, but Slack's power felt almost boundless. Sometimes her Medea was almost pleasant, even mildly funny, but periodically a huge rage rose, possessing her mind and body and consuming those around her. She's filled with sorrow for the children she feels compelled to kill, but she's still the same woman who coolly planned her escape following their deaths. When Medea stands on a platform with the children's corpses at her feet, her hands gloved in blood, and Jason — her faithless lover — laments having brought a barbarian into a civilized place, you note the essential racism, but in that terrible moment, you fully accept the description.

Best Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama

Kate Finch in Tribes

Kate Finch played a young woman brought up by deaf parents in Tribes, an insightful play about hearing and deafness, loneliness and family. She brings Billy — a young deaf man with a hearing family — out of the isolation he's suffered by teaching him sign language, and the two fall in love. Meanwhile, her own hearing deteriorates, and she finds herself unable to play the piano as she once did. Finch's Sylvia was convincing, real and so very much herself. She not only brought a rare warmth and authenticity to the action, it turns out she's a triple threat: In addition to her acting chops, she signs fluently and is a talented musician whose skilled fingering when Sylvia plays for Billy's family perfectly matched the recorded Debussy, lending authenticity to a profoundly moving scene.

Vera in 4000 Miles is a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist, but at 91 she's far more preoccupied with the constant indignities of advanced age than politics: difficulty getting around, loss of sensory acuity, and the way the words she needs keep eluding her — surely one of the hardest trials for a brilliant intellectual activist. She exchanges nightly phone calls with an elderly neighbor she professes to despise, each checking that the other is still functional and alive. Deborah Persoff fulfilled the requirements of the role brilliantly. She deliberately subdued her usual vivid on-stage persona to communicate Vera's age and the unique mixture of resignation and rebellion with which she handles it, providing all the woman's complexities, temper flare-ups and moments of tenderness without a jot of sentimentality.

Jenna Moll Reyes played Amanda in 4000 Miles, whom protagonist Leo brings home for a quick roll in the hay. She's a rich, eccentric young Chinese woman, wonderfully embodied by Reyes as a full-out hilarious little flake — except for the genuine pain and horror that show on her face when she realizes that Leo's grandmother, Vera, is a Communist. "I hate Communism!" she exclaims, and for a fleeting second you see past the frivolity and understand how much her family must have suffered in Mao's China. That was the second that made Amanda more than a cartoon, and fully human.

While the twelve disciples waver and argue in The 12, Mary Magdalene erupts into the room. The men despise her as a woman and a prostitute, but she is the strongest among them, and shares none of their religious uncertainty. Christina Sajous has an amazing voice and presence, and she was so filled with power and passion as Mary that when she sang, "Where were all of you when he hung there and died?," she seemed to evoke all the cruelty and suffering in the world.

Elizabeth, the fiancée of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, is by her own description an adorable madcap, glamorous and lively but — alas, poor Frederick! — intensely touch-averse. In short, she's one of those vamping, narcissistic Hollywood-style divas who's a gift for any actress to play. Cashelle Butler played her to the hilt, gifting the role with a fine voice and a lovely, rich vitality.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of