top 10 theatre artists

As usual, com­ing up with just 10 names was nearly im­pos­si­ble. But th­ese artists, be­sides be­ing part of at least two shows, demon­strated a com­mit­ment and range that has made them an es­sen­tial part of the theatre land­scape.

NOW Magazine - - STAGE - By glenn sumi

1 COURT­NEY CH’NG LAN­CAS­TER ac­tor and di­rec­tor

No theatre artist did as var­ied and con­sis­tent work this year as Lan­cas­ter, whose lay­ered char­ac­ters res­onate in the­atre­go­ers’ minds long af­ter a show is over. She was an es­sen­tial part of the mov­ing cho­rus in Idomeneus; played the con­flicted/com­plicit nar­ra­tor in In­no­cence Lost (con­vinc­ing as both a child and adult); got us to bite our nails as a busi­ness­woman caught in a sticky Airbnb sit­u­a­tion in Any­where; made a foot­note in mu­si­cal his­tory come vividly alive (com­plete with charm­ing singing) as an opera com­poser in I Call My­self Princess; and played both Mar­shall McLuhan’s de­voted sec­re­tary and a scant­ily clad cig­a­rette seller with a firm grasp of the philoso­pher’s oeu­vre in The Mes­sage. In ad­di­tion, as co-artis­tic di­rec­tor of the How­land Com­pany, she di­rected an as­s­kick­ing and deeply em­pa­thetic pro­duc­tion of The Wolves.

2 GRE­GORY PREST ac­tor and di­rec­tor

Prest has hith­erto been known for his in­tense dra­matic per­for­mances in shows like Of Hu­man Bondage and Ghosts. This year, he proved as good at com­edy, glee­fully de­vour­ing and spit­ting out his rhyming lines as the boor­ish cen­tral char­ac­ter in La Bête and then mor­ph­ing into a half dozen char­ac­ters in Bed And Break­fast op­po­site his real- life part­ner, Paolo San­talu­cia. He also added to his im­pres­sive di­rec­tor re­sumé with a pow­er­fully un­set­tling pro­duc­tion of the timely and dis­turb­ing Punk Rock.

3 MAEV BEATY ac­tor

While I kicked my­self for not trav­el­ling to Prince Ed­ward County to see Beaty and Li­isa Repo-Martell in Daniel MacIvor’s A Beau­ti­ful View (hey, TIFF was on) and miss­ing her play Joni Mitchell in Mu­si­cal Stage Com­pany’s three-day run of Un­cov­ered, I did get to see her in a trio of un­for­get­table shows. Beaty’s im­pe­ri­ous Rus­sian princess added glam­our and fire to Or­lando (she got bonus marks for the year’s hottest on­stage kiss with Sarah Af­ful), but it was her two col­lab­o­ra­tions with friend Han­nah Moscov­itch that made the year so mem­o­rable. Bunny and Se­cret Life Of A Mother dealt hon­estly and frankly with taboo top­ics con­cern­ing women, and Beaty fear­lessly ex­plored all the oh-so-hu­man con­tra­dic­tions sug­gested in each work.

4 BEAU DIXON ac­tor and mu­si­cian

Dixon has such a laid-back on­stage per­sona that it’s easy to un­der­es­ti­mate his skill. Early in the year, he was part of Ham­let’s rock ’n’ roll en­sem­ble, even jam­ming with fel­low mu­si­cian Jack Ni­cholsen at one point. (I would pay to see them do a cabaret duo.) Later on, in Ma Rainey’s Black Bot­tom, he added a low-key but deep soul­ful­ness to his pi­ano-play­ing, well-read Toledo. Most im­pres­sive was his Othello in Har­lem Duet, play­ing a phi­lan­der­ing aca­demic, a slave look­ing to es­cape to free­dom and a deeply com­pro­mised vaudevil­lian ac­tor.

5 GIL­LIAN GAL­LOW de­signer

Gal­low is re­spon­si­ble for some of the most strik­ing im­ages on any stage this year. In Long Day’s Jour­ney Into Night she cre­ated a fam­ily whose pic­tureper­fect sar­to­rial sur­face be­lied their hellish in­ner tur­moil; in Or­lando, her sump­tu­ous clothes helped com­mu­ni­cate the work’s chang­ing eras and mores; in Idomeneus, her char­ac­ters emerged as if from some ash heap; and in the opera Hadrian, her cos­tumes had to evoke Ro­man lead­ers, tem­pes­tu­ous Gods, peas­ants and duets of ca­vort­ing lovers. But oddly enough, her most mem­o­rable de­sign was also the sim­plest. In The Run­ner, her sparse set con­sisted of a long, mov­ing treadmill on which a ZAKA vol­un­teer was stuck as if on an exis­ten­tial cat­walk, for­ever at­tempt­ing to go for­ward and get­ting nowhere.

6 LAURA CONDLLN ac­tor

Condlln of­ten ra­di­ates sym­pa­thy and good­will, even when her char­ac­ters face big crises. As Fun Home’s anx­ious and guilt-rid­den nar­ra­tor, she helped guide us through her char­ac­ter’s se­cre­tive fam­ily his­tory (note: the show, a mu­si­cal, was Condlln’s singing de­but!). In Sis­ters, her self­less Ann sac­ri­ficed her own hap­pi­ness for that of her younger sib­ling, with poignant re­sults. And in A Del­i­cate Bal­ance, the ac­tor played against type as an en­ti­tled, mis­er­able woman seek­ing com­fort in her par­ents’ home af­ter flee­ing her fourth col­lapsed mar­riage.

7 RACHEL CAIRNS ac­tor

Cairns has a know­ing look and in­ner strength that com­mu­ni­cates to the back of the largest theatre. She first cap­tured my at­ten­tion this year as a sly Rosen­crantz in Ham­let, con­tin­ued as a loyal friend in Bunny, and then wowed High Park crowds with un­tra­di­tional (but com­pletely con­vinc­ing) takes on Juliet and Her­mia in Romeo And Juliet and A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream. Later in the year, even among a tal­ented en­sem­ble, she scored dra­matic goals with her au­thor­i­ta­tive team cap­tain in The Wolves.

8 SARA FARB ac­tor

Equally adept at mu­si­cals and straight plays, Farb has a spon­tane­ity and in­tel­li­gence that adds a spark to any show. Her Medium Ali­son in Fun Home nearly stole the show with the in­fec­tiously joy­ous num­ber, Chang­ing My Ma­jor, while her Brigid in The Hu­mans was so nu­anced you could in­tuit her re­la­tion­ship with each mem­ber of her fam­ily with a sin­gle glance or line-read­ing.

9 AMANDA CORD­NER ac­tor and writer

Not many ac­tors could be­liev­ably play both the Egyp­tian god Anu­bis (al­beit in hu­man form) and Odysseus’s pa­tient wife Pene­lope. But Cord­ner did, stylishly and with to­tal con­fi­dence, in Feather­weight and The Penelop­iad. But her most im­pres­sive act­ing feat was in Body So Flu­o­res­cent, which she co-wrote with David di Gio­vanni, in which she played two young friends whose re­la­tion­ship det­o­nates af­ter one of them ap­pro­pri­ates the other’s cul­ture.

10 HAN­NAH LEVIN­SON ac­tor

Surely the youngest artist to ever be on this list, Levin­son con­sis­tently demon­strates a wis­dom and theatre savvy way be­yond her years. In the mu­si­cals Fun Home and The Pre­pos­ter­ous Predica­ment Of Polly Peel (Act 1), she brought fo­cus and dis­ci­pline to pre­co­cious girls with lots of ques­tions, of­ten sug­gest­ing things her char­ac­ters were un­aware of, while in The Nether she skill­fully made us be­lieve she was an ide­al­ized Vic­to­rian girl with some­one else ma­nip­u­lat­ing her avatar. [email protected]­toronto.com | @glennsumi

Court­ney Ch’ng Lan­cas­ter’s huge range of work made her the year’s stand­out artist.

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