In Good Company

Tired of seeing the same faces onstage every season? Look here. . . .

I know it's not just me. Surely others stumble out of ACT or Intiman or Seattle Rep time after time and think, "Are these the only actors in Seattle?"

Before their friends and immediate family send me outraged e-mails, let me grant that the actors we see over and over (and we all know who I'm talking about, don't we?) are a skilled, professional bunch. And while I'm not implying that anyone be put out to pasture, can we admit that it's become increasingly difficult to accept even the most dexterous of these performers in roles that were better suited to them a decade ago? There areother talented artists out there, right?

So, who would I want the Big Three to hire? I can't say that I've stuck to any hard and fast rules in forming my ideal company. And my list has certain limitations: There aren't nearly enough actors of color on it—which, to me, simply says Seattle doesn't give nearly enough actors of color time and experience to flex their technique. Missing, also, are people I admire but who, I hope, have finally caught on with the bigger houses (Lori Larsen and the ever-delectable Bhama Roget, for instance, have lately been gainfully employed at the Rep—hurrah!—twice). Included, however, are performers who have occasionally found work at the bigger houses whom I just don't think the bigger houses have quite figured out (call it hubris on my part). And, I'm happy to report, there are finally so many accomplished younger male actors in town that I couldn't fit them all on a short list of only six men and six women. (So Troy Fischnaller, Hans Altweis, Andrew Litzky, Sylvester Foday Kamara: word.) I've given myself the luxury, too, not to worry about pleasing subscribers—meaning that, yes, this is all just a fantasy (though, when possible, I've included where you can actually watch these actors next) and it presumes the world is overflowing with enough interesting plays to both engage these talents and their lucky, lucky audiences.

THE COMPANY

Susanna Burney

Burney projects an embattled dignity in the face of overwhelming circumstance. She can be honorable without sanctimony (note her quietly appalled police officer for the Empty Space's The Laramie Project), and her noble steadfastness makes comic roles twice as hysterical: She was even funnier than the role suggests as a straight-faced wet nurse giving suckle to hell's minions in Scot Augustson's Gone Are the Days at ConWorks. Surely there's some funny-sad Chekhovian something waiting to take advantage of such an ability. Next: Starting a new troupe, Our American Theatre Company, and touring with Book-It's educational branch.

Peter Crook

What do you do after Angels in America? It's a question that Crook shouldn't have to be asking himself, even if it did seem hard to top his stellar Seattle debut as the closeted gay Mormon in Intiman's 1994–95 epic. Why he hasn't been given more time as a leading man—though Seattle Children's Theatre and Seattle Shakespeare Company have put him to good use—mystifies me. I don't recall the guy ever giving a bad performance (well, no one could've survived 2001's Miss Golden Dreams, Joyce Carol Oates' embittered elegy for Marilyn Monroe, at ACT). And most of his work has been extraordinary: The precision of his venal rancor as the anti-intellectual of The Designated Mourner for New City Theater cut to the bone. Next: The serial killer of Frozen at the Empty Space in September.

Nick Garrison

Anyone who's been paying attention knows that Nick Garrison is the highest of high-caliber talent. He had two separate, sold-out seasons as the blistering, heart-stopping lead of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Re-bar, so it must be lack of local imagination that has kept anyone from further exploring the transgendered transcendence he practically bled for night after night. His way with a crowd, his deft hand at female characters (director Craig Lucas had the chutzpah to cast him as nurse Fay in Loot at Intiman), and his empathy for outsiders (he was a moving Oscar Wilde in the Empty Space's Vera Wilde) make him the perfect artist to prod audiences to contemplate what it means to exist outside the confines of convention. Next: Touring Europe with Hedwig.

Cynthia Jones

Jones compellingly crumbled and crooned as Billie Holiday in Seattle's first staging of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, then spent the following years watching her stage persona shift into that of a sunny soul with clouds just overhead (a tentative desegregationist in ACT's Waiting to Be Invited, an earnest Christian humbled by minimum wage in Intiman's Nickel and Dimed). She always delivered the goods, but it was an eye-opener—and a clue to how much more she should be doing—to catch her playing a different tune as the imperious blues legend of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom at the Rep this year. I didn't think she quite captured all of August Wilson's furious empress, but to watch her given the chance to go after the crown was a regal experience. Next:Menopause—The Musical at ACT in September.

Darragh Kennan

Kennan is a compact guy with charisma much larger than his frame. He had a nice turn as a not-very-nice teen in The Wrestling Season at Seattle Children's Theatre in 2002, then had small roles in big shows at the Rep (Romeo and Juliet, The Time of Your Life). Last summer, he broke out by taking a powerful swing at the lead role in Capitol Hill Arts Center's (CHAC) Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui; his take on the comic savagery of Brecht's gangster was a knockout. If he gets the right chances, he may well be the force to reckon with on Seattle stages. Next:Accidental Death of an Anarchist at Richard Hugo House in the fall.

Troy Mink

If you've seen Mink as Carlotta, the aged Southern gossip of the Seattle institution that is Carlotta's Late Night Wing-Ding, you know that he's capable of disappearing into a character so completely that it can leave you almost uncomfortably awed. (Is that him in there?) He was sharp enough to mine that gift in his superlative solo show The Haint, playing all the eccentrics of a haunted Tennessee town, but it was his performance as an ensemble member of last fall's similarly poltergeist-driven Kentucky Ghosts that made me realize how much he'd have to offer as a supporting character in any number of large-cast classics. Mink does quirks without comment—imagine all the people he could inhabit. Next: A remount of The Haint at Northwest Actors Studio in October.

Marty Mukhalian

You need solid support onstage? Call Mukhalian. She first gained my respect in 2001 for calmly evading embarrassment while wearing a pair of false rubber hands as a mutant physician in The Obscure Bird of Night, Open Circle Theater's misfired bit of magic realism. Though she occasionally gets a chance in the spotlight—scoring as a self-involved Dancer in 2003's Santa-bashing The Eight: Reindeer Monologues—she's been making distinct impressions in potentially indistinct, unimpressive roles ever since. I can't think of many actresses capable of sidestepping camp to find the real fear beneath a Superstitious Transylvanian Villager in Book-It's Dracula: Jonathan Harker's Journal. Next: "An obnoxious gypsy" for theater simple's Camino Real in November.

Garlyn Punao

You get to the point, as great as the speech is, that you can't imagine really hearing "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears" ever again. Punao made me glad to hear it again, knocking it all the way across Volunteer Park as a furiously contained Antony in Wooden O's crackling Julius Caesar last summer. He followed it up with good work at CHAC—a starving actor in Waiting for Lefty, Biff in Death of a Salesman—and the kind of presence that's slick but not superficial. I'd like to see him work his charm in a comedy before he gets typecast as an Angry Young Man. Next: Tybalt for Seattle Shakespeare Company's Romeo and Juliet in October.

Sarah Rudinoff

Well, of course. But, as is the case with her friend Nick Garrison, local success hasn't meant we've seen even half of what Rudinoff has to offer. Her solo shows—2003's Go There and last December's somewhat less assured but more ambitious The Last State—and her triumph as the grotesque despot of Ubu last season at the Empty Space are just hints of a larger-than-life, genre- defying talent. When she took the stage to belt out a song in the 5th Avenue's mostly ho-hum Smokey Joe's Cafe last fall, Rudinoff made all the opening nighters around me turn to one another and buzz, "Who is that?!" Exactly—let's find out. Next:The King Stag at the Rep in September.

Shellie Shulkin

After successfully portraying The Glass Menagerie's Amanda at SecondStory Rep and another imposing mother in The Last Night of Ballyhoo for Taproot in 2003, Shulkin inspired the Weekly's Chris Jensen to write that the actress seemed "to be cornering the market on insane Southern matrons." Well, Shulkin pulled out of the South and pulled out all the stops for a hilarious, bittersweet, show-stealing turn as a lovably bewildered widow in theater simple's Three Viewings earlier this season. Why a major company hasn't yet wondered just how daffy or distraught she can be is the real insanity. Next: Touring D.C. and Chicago in January with a company of actors reading from classic Jewish literature.

Ray Tagavilla

As a young Asian who kills his white male lover, Tagavilla was the reason to see Chay Yew's Porcelain at the Northwest Asian American Theatre in 2001. He found some elegance in that gay ache, and hasn't since had as ripe an opportunity to show off his singular refinement or facility with language (though he got to spoof both, with surprising agility, as a demented doctor in Theater Schmeater's popular comic serial, Money & Run). He held his own against the dementia as the Great Dane of Defibrillator Productions' experimental Hamletmachine, and Schmeater has been smart enough to give him a crack at other work, but Tagavilla is still waiting for a deserved return to center stage. Next: Episode 12 of the Asian-American stage sitcom Sex in Seattle in October.

Jennifer Lee Taylor

She balanced a warm inner glow with rapier wit as Elizabeth Bennet in Book-It's Pride and Prejudice, then gave the company a heroine who fit Edna Ferber's description of the cultivated but decidedly not demure Leslie Lynnton in Giant ("wiry as a steel spring, and as indestructible"). She easily carried both shows—Taylor can play a lady without boring you to death. I'd love to see a canny director find some poison beneath the poise. Next: Still pending at press time. (Take note, Big Boys.)

swiecking@seattleweekly.com

 
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