After a slow start, the 2005-'06 theater season ends on a high note.
After a dismal first half that produced only two memorable productions (Pig Iron Theatre Company's startling Pay Up and the Arden Theatre Company's poignant musical Winesburg, Ohio), the 2005-'06 Philadelphia theater season desperately needed a shot in the arm.
The first sign of life came from the Prince Music Theater, which produced the season's best holiday show with its entertaining revival of Dreamgirls. In February Freedom Repertory Theatre returned from an 18-month absence with the world premiere of Daniel Beaty's tour-de-force Emergence-See. Not to be outdone, the Arden Theatre Company mounted another masterful new work, Philly playwright Michael Hollinger's intimate human drama Opus.
But the real saviors of the season were veteran English playwright Caryl Churchill and the explosive American dramatist Tracy Letts, both of whom were making their professional debuts in Philadelphia. Churchill bowed at the Wilma Theater, which showcased the veteran English playwright in a highly successful festival. Letts' introduction was equally memorable, with Theatre Exile mounting the playwright's volatile dark comedy Killer Joe and the People's Light & Theatre Company staging Letts' magnificent investigation of lost faith and renewal The Man From Nebraska. Churchill's and Letts' plays accounted for four of the season's top 10 productions.
Pig Iron Theatre Company, which celebrated its 10th anniversary with the company's first five-show season, proved that when a Philly company is willing to stretch itself artistically, Philadelphia theater can be as imaginative as anywhere else in the country. Pig Iron was far-and-away the season's top company.
Following is a list of the artists and productions that made a significant contribution to the season.
Top 10 productions:
A Number (Wilma Theater)
Cloud 9 (Wilma Theater)
Killer Joe (Theatre Exile)
Pay Up (Pig Iron Theatre Company)
Winesburg, Ohio (Arden Theatre Company)
Opus (Arden Theatre Company)
Richard III (Lantern Theater)
Emergence-See (Freedom Repertory Theatre)
The Man From Nebraska (People's Light & Theatre Company)
Dreamgirls (Prince Music Theater)
Honorable mention: Love Unpunished, Mission to Mercury, The Lady From the Sea
Best production, play: The Man From Nebraska
Best production, musical: Winesburg, Ohio
Best director, play: Ken Marini (The Man From Nebraska)
Honorable mention: Walter Dallas (Emergence-See), Joe Canuso (Killer Joe), Terrence J. Nolen (Opus), Blanka Zizka (Cloud 9)
Best director, musical: Terrence J. Nolen (Winesburg, Ohio)
Honorable mention: Stafford Arina (Bright Lights, Big City), Richard Parison (Dreamgirls)
Best actress, play: Marcia Saunders (The Man From Nebraska)
Honorable mention: Susan McKey (The Lady From the Sea), Amanda Schoonover (Killer Joe)
Best actor, play: John Lumia (Killer Joe)
Honorable mention: Peter DeLaurier (The Man From Nebraska), Pete Pryor (Richard III), Daniel Beaty (Emergence-See)
Best actor, musical: Brian Hissong (Winesburg, Ohio)
Honorable mention: Dito van Reigersberg (Mission to Mercury), Tony Braithwaite (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum)
Best actress, musical: Sarah Doherty (Mission to Mercury)
Honorable mention: Nova Y. Payton (Dreamgirls)
Best supporting actress, play: Hazel Bowers (Agnes of God)
Honorable mention: Marla Burkholder (The Lady From the Sea)
Best supporting actor, play: John Peakes (The Man From Nebraska)
Honorable mention: Kraig Swartz (Cloud 9), David Stratton White (Cloud 9), Tony Braithwaite (After Ashley)
Best supporting actress, musical: Lesley Bevan (Winesburg, Ohio)
Honorable mention: Joliet Harris (Finian's Rainbow), Stephanie Palumbo (Wyatt Earp), Caroline Dooner (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum)