Best Performance by an Actress in a Drama 2016 | Karen Slack in Medea | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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.

Scott Beyette is in many ways the heart of BDT Stage. He acts, sings and dances. He directs. He choreographs. He can play leading men or weird, eccentric characters with equal conviction and aplomb. And in Mary Poppins, he showed he could fly. His Bert was a more shaded character than Dick Van Dyke's cheery Cockney in the famous film. Sure, Beyette's Bert was chipper, but there were depths and shadows to his interpretation, and it seemed clear that he understood with sadness that his quiet, unstated love for the magical nanny could never be requited.

The funniest bit in Young Frankenstein is an inspired version of Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz," in which the Monster — convincingly played by TJ Hogle as a big, green, howling, blubbery-voiced mess — learns to dance with the help of several other characters. He becomes more suave and lithe with every tap-dancing step, and here begins his transformation into a smooth, English-accented sophisticate, worthy of a lady's love. Hogle handled the transformation beautifully and sang of his "Deep Love" in a fine, melting tenor.

Directed and choreographed with crackling energy by Nick Sugar, with musical direction by the peerless Donna Kolpan Debreceni and ingenious costumes, set design and special effects — not to mention a fabulous cast — the Town Hall's Young Frankenstein was silly, funny, high-spirited and an all-around good time. We'd put it up against the New York revival — for which tickets ran as high as $450 — any day.

We've enjoyed an unusually large number of fine, interesting, new and unorthodox plays in area theaters this year, but images from one production keep recurring in memory: Terry Johnson's brilliant Hysteria. It's a hilarious farce complete with multiple doors, unexpected exits and entrances, ridiculous misunderstandings, silly accents, a man without his pants and a naked woman in a closet. But it's set in London just before World War II; the protagonist is a dying Sigmund Freud, and a strange young woman presents him with an accusation that may invalidate his life's work. He also receives a visit from Salvador Dalí. So naturally, all kinds of absurdist and evocative imagery gets introduced. Snails and mucus. Sex and touch aversion. Salt, semen and bird shit. Phallic statues. Swans and starlings. And, of course, a melting clock, a roaring train and solid objects that turn to rubber. There are levels on levels of meaning here, but the play isn't dense or hard to watch; it's funny, surprising, moving and absorbing throughout — as well as deeply sad. Michael Stricker directed with a sure hand, the cast was terrific, the set beautifully detailed and the special effects mind-boggling. Hysteria did exactly what theater is meant to do: It set the imagination soaring.

Readers' choice: The Book of Mormon

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