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Agony and ecstasy marked theatre season

Stunning shows, financial woes made headlines

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To Monsieur, with love: David Adams as Algerian teacher Bashir Lazhar.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

To Monsieur, with love: David Adams as Algerian teacher Bashir Lazhar. Photo Store

It's a wrap for the 2012-13 theatre season as Shakespeare in the Ruins and Rainbow Stage prepare to take it outside for the summer.

It's time to look back at a year that wasn't dominated by one local company, a year that showed many can contribute to stage excellence in the city. It will be remembered for the thrill of Samantha Hill making her Broadway debut in the lead female role of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera and the agony of Manitoba Theatre for Young People founder Leslee Silverman being turfed so callously.

The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre drew the most attention of theatre-goers for its premi®re of a new adaptation of the American literary classic Gone With the Wind in January, but the story that just wouldn't go away was the season-long financial woes at MTYP, one of the shining lights of Winnipeg theatre. Its productions were upstaged by its dismal economic performance, which featured unpaid bills, a missed payroll and a mountain of debt. By the end of the season most of the senior staff had fled, leaving newly installed artistic director Derek Aasland with the huge task of mounting a turnaround.

Signs of financial stress were seen elsewhere, as the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre postponed Perestroika, the second half of Angels in America, from October to May and opened with the more economical one-woman show Dai. Even when the three-and-a half hour marathon Perestroika was admirably staged, it played to 65 per cent of capacity and left a $8,000 deficit.

Theatre Projects had a strong season with its pair of Quebecer-penned plays but employed only three actors to do it. The best representation of local talent was on display during the all-female The Penelopiad, Joseph Aragon's Bloodless -- The Trail of Burke and Hare and SondheimFest's Sunday in the Park With George.

RMTC offered a so-so season on the mainstage, while the Warehouse was exceptional, with no weak links among Red, Assassins, The Penelopiad and Ride the Cyclone. Prairie Theatre Exchange was all over the place, starting promisingly with Ellen Peterson's The Brink and topping out with Hannah Moscovitch's engaging This Is War, but misfiring with The Swearing Jar and Gunmetal Blues.

Some lingering memories of this season include the Tracey Nepinak's Facebowl scene in Jail Baby, when Emma Stefanchuk was stuffed in a barrel and rolled across the stage in Bloodless and Kimberley Rampersad as a hot Helen, strutting in a sexy peacock-coloured outfit that alone could launch a thousand ships.

If Winnipeg had its own theatre awards, this is how I would have voted:

BEST PRODUCTION: Bashir Lahzar. The Theatre Projects drama was touching and powerful.

Honourable mentions: Ride the Cyclone; This Is War; Angles in America: Perestroika.

BEST ACTOR: David Adams. His understated, dignified performance underpinned Bashir Lahzar.

Honourable mentions: Tom McCamus (Gone With the Wind); Nicholas Rice (Perestroika); Simon Miron (Sunday in the Park With George).

BEST ACTRESS: Bethany Jillard. Her Scarlett O'Hara was a bona fide belle with balls in the RMTC adaptation of Gone With the Wind.

Honourable mentions: Megan McGinnis (Daddy Long Legs); Kelly Hudson (Ride the Cyclone); Steffi DiDomenicantonio (Rooms).

BEST DIRECTOR: Ann Hodges. Her outstanding work in Bashir Lazhar was part of her stellar season.

Honourable mentions: Adam Brazier (Assassins); Christopher Brauer (Perestroika); Arne MacPherson (Sunday in the Park With George).

BEST SET DESIGN: John Lee Betty. The Tony Award-winner succeeded in creating a stylish look for Gone With Wind that could also kept the action moving briskly.

Honourable mentions: Joan Murphy Kakoske (Bashir Lazhar); Peter Hartwell (Red); Camellia Koo (This Is War).

BEST CANADIAN SCRIPT: This Is War. Hannah Moscovitch brought the impact of Canadian combat missions on our soldiers home to us civilians.

Honourable mentions: Gone With the Wind (Niki Landau); Bloodless -- The Trial of Burke and Hare (Joseph Aragon); The Brink (Ellen Peterson).

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2013 G4

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