By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Most Watchable Actress
Once seen onstage, Gigi Berminghamis not likely to be forgotten. She's the gal with the voluptuous smile and can-do spunk who effortlessly conjures an America of rolled-up sleeves and wisecracks. Then why do we sense, in some of her calmest portrayals, a cornered neurotic spiraling out of control? In truth, we can't decide whether Bermingham's characters are the kind of people who inspire us to emotionally elope with them or lock up our medicine cabinets when they're around. This year's self-written one-woman show, Non-Vital Organs, demonstrated Bermingham's uncanny performance discipline and jagged wit as she portrayed seven women, ranging from a former paint huffer to the manipulative heiress who runs a halfway house for troubled young women.
Most Anti-Climactic Ending
The longest-running show on both the Mark Taper and Ahmanson stages, Gordon Davidson's reign as artistic director of the Center Theater Group, ended in the least dramatic way possible, a non-resignation resignation submitted to the CTG board, and later officially announced only after it had been leaked to the L.A. Times. But even this announcement wasn't a decisive door-slam — Davidson's departure wouldn't be effective until the start of 2005. This was no way to drop a bombshell — the end of L.A. theater's most celebrated postwar era inspired neither catharsis nor resolution, and resisted every opportunity to explore the nature of cultural power and generational divides in American society. Why didn't Davidson's letter go through a Taper committee review and several rewrites — where were the dramaturges? Wasn't Robbie Baitz in town?
Best Political Play
Becoming Cuban(City Stage at the Hudson Guild Theater), Carlos Lacámara's story about a naive American's encounter with two Cubas — one ideologically committed to its revolution, the other frustrated with food shortages and the grayness of life — proved that topical events can make compelling drama.
Cheapest Sleeping Pill
Forget TV, short attention spans and NEA cuts — American theater's deadliest enemy is its dullest champion, American Theatermagazine. This earnest glossy can paralyze the most agitated insomniac with unreadable articles about "diversity," "gender identity" and all the other P.C. euphemisms for boring cant that arts writers use in place of originality (and that some playwrights substitute for storytelling). If its writing weren't so narcotizing, A.T. might at least be useful for the scripts it prints each month, but wading through such sincere pieces as "Towards a Theater of Action" and "Who Will Speak for the Children?" is like getting stuck in an elevator with Peter Sellars. After a few pages of this you can't help but want to pull the wings off butterflies.
Most Durable Trouper
I first saw Sharon Lockwood perform in a 1971 San Francisco Mime Troupe production called An Independent Woman, a satirical tale of suffragettes; in her recent impersonation of author Barbara Ehrenreich in fellow Mime Troupe vet Joan Holden's stage version of Nickel and Dimed (Mark Taper Forum), Lockwood was every bit as energetic, funny and — in the best sense — instructive as she was 31 years ago.
Most Compelling Storyteller
With the ironically titled one-woman show Where Do Babies Come From?(Elephant Theater), Vicki Juditz again proved her narrative powers as she took us through her own harrowing journey as a would-be parent entering the world of surrogate motherhood.
Chay Yew's re-envisioning of The House of Bernarda Alba at the Mark Taper Forum. Directed by Lisa Peterson, this fast-moving production of Garcia Lorca's fable about a controlling matriarch was infused with a Latin-Pacific sensibility that retained the play's repressive gravity while leavening it with bawdy laughter.
Most Ambitious Small-Theater Production
The Evidence Room's presentation of David Edgar's Pentecost was a tart speculation on the nature of cultural authorship and possession.
Instant Theater: Just Add Disaster
I wrote a glowing review after seeing Ann Nelson's The Guys at Actors Gang, but when Tim Robbins left the show, I realized I was at a loss for much good to say. Take away Robbins' quietly intense portrayal of a New York Fire Department captain who enlists the aid of a writer to help him come up with some eulogies after 9/11, and we were left with a wan melodrama that wore its feelings like cheap perfume. No wonder: The play was originally written as fund-raising material for a Manhattan theater, but the emotional updraft following 9/11 ensured that this slightest of works rose to the top of everyone's must-see list.
~ STAGE ENTRANCES ~
Over There, Over Here. 2002 marked the arrival of UCLA's International Theater Festival, the first such fest we've had since Peter Sellars ran the Los Angeles Festival into the ground in 1993. Impresario David Sefton started small with only two venues on the UCLA campus. Yet his importing top companies from Italy (Societas Raffaello Sanzio), the Netherlands (ZT Hollandia), Germany (Heiner Goebbels), France (Compagnie du Hanneton) and Denmark (Robert Wilson brought in a Danish company for his production of Woyzeck) was the first sign in almost a decade that somebody in the theater with access to big money was taking seriously the notion that ideas from beyond our shores do actually matter.