As the days take us toward 2012, I look back on the 2011 theatre year with a good deal of astonishment. Yet another year of productions is passing, and theatres in Indianapolis have done a remarkable job, again, of presenting a wonderful variety of offerings. This year I attended shows at CCP, Epilogue, Spotlight Players and IndyFringe theatres and from this narrow sample of shows, I have picked out a few performances and highlights for my first (annual?) Most Impressive Theatre awards. These awards are totally based on my impressions of what I witnessed (so it is a narrow sampling) but I feel I would like to recognize the best of the best I saw.

In the category – “Most Impressive Set Design” – the winner is Lori Raffel for her innovative design for “Six Degrees of Separation” (CCP). It was original, functional and appealing to the eye. And it worked extremely well with the director’s choices for blocking. I look forward to working with you again soon, Lori!

In the category – “Most Impressive Costume Design” – the winner is – actually it is a tie (I have several of these), so 2 winners: Patricia Schiro-Long for “I Hate Hamlet” (CCP) and Lindsey Lord for “Greater Tuna” (Spotlight Players). Schiro-Long’s choices were examples of using costumes as extensions of characters and I was very impressed with her designs, especially the evening dresses she picked for the later scenes. Lord’s assignment was to pick a variety of costumes for 20 or so characters. The choices had to be distinguishing (especially with 2 actors playing all the roles) as well as being workable for the quick-change aspects of the roles. This was well-accomplished. Well done, ladies!

In the category – “Most Impressive Newcomer” – the winner is Tempiellen Knuteson, who I saw in her role as Fairy May in “The Curious Savage” (Epilogue Players). At age 16, Knudeson moves about the stage with incredible grace and aplomb. She won an Encore Award for her part in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which I did not catch – but I can believe she was wonderful. I really look forward to seeing her on stage on the coming years. Come audition for me sometime, Tempiellen!

In the category – “Most Impressive Actor in a Smaller Role” – the winner is Shawn Evans for his role as Gary Peter Lefkowitz in “I Hate Hamlet” (CCP). Evans’ extreme energy and physicality turned a so-so role into a sparkling piece of showmanship. He took a lot of chances up on stage and they all worked to his advantage. Evans claimed an Encore Award for this role, as well – so congrats Shawn on a great job!

In the category – “Most Impressive Actress in a Smaller Role” – the winner is Vickie Smith as Justine in “Almost Heaven” (IndyFringe Theater). Vickie portrayed an old man’s daughter, who despite his coarse nature and disregard for her efforts, remained as staunch a supportive person in his life as she possibly could. Her passion for the character’s ideals and her genuine show of hurt feelings for the father’s unhappiness with her showed a wonderful understanding of her role and what the playwright had intended. You were marvelous, Vickie!

In the category – “Most Impressive Actor in a Larger Role” – the winners (another tie) are Damon Dennon as Ross Gardiner in “Visiting Mr. Green” (Spotlight Players) and Larry Haworth for his one-man show “Flowers and Other F-words” during IndyFringe Fest. Dennon mastered a very difficult role with passion and understanding. He was an impressive counter-part to his only costar in the show – David Harold, and delivered one of the years’ most heart-felt monologues as his character divulges what it is like to be gay in his situation, with conflicts from parents, work-mates, business dealings and the like. Haworth’s piece, co-written with Amy Pettinella, was of a very personal nature at times. He stood firm and strong in this most difficult of genres – the one-man show. On stage for a full hour, he regaled us with an impressive variety of characters and the many sides of a man. Super job, both of you!

In the category – “Most Impressive Actress in a Larger Role” – the winner is Lina Ricks for her portrayal of Ouisa Kittridge in “Six Degrees of Separation” (CCP). Ricks held down a most difficult role in this production, including moments of unsureness by some of her cast-mates during the show. As impressive as her rendition of Ouisa was (and it was a very excellent job), it was equally impressive seeing her polish as she showed no fear or confusion and more than once got the production back on track after it had jumped the rails. It was a remarkable display of talent and adept craftsmanship in acting and stagecraft.

In the category – “Most Impressive Cast as Ensemble” – the winner is the cast of “Suds” (CCP). What a workout this crew of 4 got into every night of their show’s run. They all got the absolute most out of the piece and their audience. High energy plus great talent equals a remarkable show with an all-out audience participation curtain call, the likes I have rarely seen in community theatre. Jenny Mermelstein, Alexandra Stewart, Carolyn Rae and Darrin Gowan gave it all up and received immediate praise from their audience. This was a stunning and rousing performance by all. Thank you to the cast for the uplifting experience!

In the category – “Most Impressive Direction” – the winner is Rich Baker for “Suds” (CCP). As described in the previous entry (above) this was a stunning production. I give a lot of credit to most any director who takes on a musical – there are just so many extra things to organize and develop when compared to a straight play, but Baker knocked this show out of the park. Every problem was solved, every performance detail was met, every aspect of every production value was covered – and all in a first class, professional way. This was truly one of the best musicals I have seen locally in many years (tied perhaps with Brian Noffke’s “Miss Saigon) and I can only imagine how good Baker’s Encore Award winning turn in “The Producers”, which I missed, must have been. Great job, Rich.

In the category – “Most Impressive Show” – the winner is (again) – “Suds” (CCP). I just loved the show – I loved how I felt after the show, during the show, remembering the show. As stated before, it was a full-fledged hit. I know it broke all the attendance records at CCP’s new theater. It was the most impressive show I saw all year.

Finally, in a special category “Most Impressive Theater Accomplishment” – the winner is Amy Pettinella for her body of work, including this year’s “Flowers and Other F-words” and “Almost Heaven”. Amy has to be one of the most focused and impressively creative people in the Indianapolis theater scene. She writes plays, and directs and produces them. She also runs a small music venue which is home-grown and successful. In past years her plays have found stages in regional and westward areas. I have known Amy for a long time, having met her when writing was just a dream she had. It is a wonderful story how she has never let obstacles stop her growth or block her path. Once she found a key to her talents, writing for theater – it was off to the races. I congratulate Amy and encourage her to keep growing. Amy seems boundless at times. I know she has just barely scratched the surface.

And now onto a fresh year. I look forward to what performances I can include in my coming year, as well as a directing stint I have at Spotlight Players, with “Life x 3” by Yasmina Reza. I have a feeling that much more Impressive Theatre is on it’s way. Happy New Year everybody!