When people think of New York theater, it often takes a lot to convince them the best of the city’s performing arts doesn’t only happen in a roughly 50-square-block area of Manhattan.
Queens is lucky to have more than a dozen community theater groups and about a half-dozen professional level troupes, which consistently entertain and enlighten audiences with everything from Neil Simon to William Shakespeare.
Once again, TimesLedger Newspapers looks back at the past year to single out those individuals who delivered the most memorable, thought-provoking performances and productions to play the borough.
Five nominees were selected for each category: lead actor, lead actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, director and best production. Any show that opened between Jan. 1 - Dec. 31 and was approved as an Actors Equity Showcase was eligible.
In Queens, those performances take place at The Chain Theatre, The Secret Theatre, The Chocolate Factory Theater, the Queens Theatre and the Astoria Performing Arts Center.
Here are the winners for the 2015 Queens Kudos Awards:
• Outstanding actress in a lead role — When it comes to performing both comedic and dramatic roles, few people can pull both off at the same level. This year’s choice for lead actress is one of those extremely talented few. Laura Frye delivers not one but three memorable performances in “A Christmas Carol” at the Queens Theatre. As Mrs. Cratchit, Frye beautifully shows the anger she feels toward Scrooge, who she believes is the cause of her family’s misery, without letting the bile dictate her interactions with others. Earlier in the show as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Frye portrays the spirit without pity or judgment toward Scrooge and his probable fate. With sort of a Jack Webb, just the facts ma’am approach, Frye merely shows the miser why he is the way he is. But it may have been the slip of a bit as Sally, a partygoer at Scrooge’s nephew’s home, that clinched this award. In a handful of lines, delivered with a lusty and drunken furor, Frye walks away with the show.
• Outstanding actor in a lead role — The five men nominated as outstanding lead actor this year presented radically different yet nuanced performances in both comedies and dramas. But Terry Layman, in the title role of Titan Theatre Co.’s “King Lear,” managed to set himself apart from the tough competition with a brilliant turn as the doomed monarch. Layman’s magnificent performance expresses the king’s wide range of emotions, which run from anger and vitriol to light-heartedness and joy. Lear is an old man, made more feeble in the body and brain as the realization of what he has done — rewarded the two evil daughters and punished the only one who really loved him — becomes clear. Layman is able to convey regalness at the onset as equally as he expresses insanity toward the end and nowhere does he make a false step or hit an unrealistic note in his thrilling performance.
• Outstanding actress in a supporting role — As the clichéd saying goes, there are no small roles, only small actors. Being able to leave a lasting impression in just one or two scenes is a hard trick to pull off. But Jacklyn Collier in Variations Theatre Group’s “Hurlyburly” manages to do just that. As Bonnie, a stripper and part-time prostitute, Collier provides a slap of reality to the motley crew of Hollywood sad-sacks and sociopaths in this wickedly funny version of David Rabe’s dark comedy. As Bonnie stumbles in with torn stockings, bloody knees and missing one shoe, after being tossed out of a moving car by another character, Collier’s deadpanned response to the question of what did she do to prompt this, speaks louder and longer than any five-minute monologue could. “I smiled,” she said. Bonnie sees the absurdity of the situation and the self-delusional lifestyles the others promote and calls it out for what it is. In those two words, Collier anchors the entire play in reality and encourages the others to join her there.
• Outstanding actor in a supporting role — Picking one or two actors who present a complete performance worthy of praise is often pretty easy. That is not the case this year in this category, where we easily could have selected 10 nominees. But in a season thick with complex, funny and even disturbing turns, Tristan Colton in “The Prison Where I Live,” was, in a word, phenomenal. As John Wilkes Booth, Colton is funny, foul-mouthed and smart. Forced into the family business — which just happened to be acting — Booth was less interested in craft and more geared toward meeting and bedding women. The historic Booth was not a nice guy. But Colton actually turns his nasty man, who nearly destroyed the nation after killing Abraham Lincoln, into a charming and likeable character. That says a lot. He is able to take one of the world’s greatest villains and make him into somebody you would want to hang out with. And in the end, Colton does this in a believable way that makes the audience rethink what they thought they knew.
• Outstanding director — The man — and in Queens this year they were all men — who starts with a vision of what a show should be and works to ensure that happens is often left out of the praise. Clearly, when a play fails, everyone points to the director, but when a production shines, the audience may think about the actors, the playwright or even the costumer. A great director should work with a light touch and create something that seems to have sprung to life organically. In another tough category, the 2015 Queens Kudos for directing goes to Alberto Bonilla for the Queens Players’ “Richard III.” Bonilla took Shakespeare’s tragedy and transported it to Margaret Thatcher’s England of the 1980s. The show was loud and in your face, which makes perfect sense for this story of a borderline psychopath, who murdered his way to the throne. Including a band on a stage within the stage helps add another level of complexity to this bloody tale. Punk anthems from The Clash, Billy Idol and The Sweet move the plot along in a fresh and exciting way. Some of the actors even turn parts of their monologues into songs. Bonilla also elicits incredible performances from the entire cast. When they handed earplugs out to the audience at the start of the show, we actually thought about leaving. Luckily we stayed and were rewarded with a brilliant production.
• Outstanding production — When it comes to tripe and treacle in the theater, you probably don’t have to look further than a Christmas-themed show aimed at the heart and your wallet. But when Titan Theatre Co. announced it would present “A Christmas Carol” at Queens Theatre, we knew things would be different. Titan and director Lenny Banovez have never failed to amaze and entertain at the highest level found in the borough. Banovez and co-adaptor Emily Trask manage to clean up a lot of the show’s clutter without losing any of the powerful emotions that arise from Srooge’s redemption at the final curtain. Once again Banovez has assembled an eclectic group of actors — this time from elementary schoolchildren to Broadway veterans — who gloriously bring to life this story. From the spot-on period costumes to the inclusion of some lesser-known Christmas carols, this show was near perfection. And the best part? As Titan settles into its role as the resident troupe at Queens Theatre, Banovez and company will deliver this yuletide present to audiences annually for years to come.
Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimm