Laurie Klatscher clinches Post-Gazette's performer of the year

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In the award's 28th year, the Post-Gazette's theatrical Performer of the Year for 2011 is Laurie Klatscher, who excelled in Madeleine George's "Precious Little" at City Theatre and Tammy Ryan's "Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods" at Playhouse Rep.

The variety that Ms. Klatscher showed in those two plays was all the greater because in "Precious Little" she played three contrasting roles: a pregnancy counselor; an elderly immigrant speaking an obscure dying language (largely invented but based on Vepsian); and, extraordinarily, an ape, played simply without makeup or special costume -- an unsettling, impassive, inscrutable portrait you couldn't get out of your mind.

In contrast, her Christine in "Lost Boy" was deceptively simple. Christine is a contemporary East End divorcee with a teenage daughter. She meets a young Sudanese refugee, but in trying haplessly to help him she plumbs American ignorance of the outside world. The play's rueful heart is that, no matter how frantic and well-meaning, Christine is able to do something only for her daughter and herself.

Originally from California, Ms. Klatscher is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, one of Pittsburgh's two fertile acting conservatories. She's married to director Gregory Lehane, and their son, Nick, is an actor. Her career once took her to New York (Primary Stages, LaMama, York Theatre), she has done some film and TV, and she also composes and writes. But mainly she is an essential part of Pittsburgh's professional acting community, appearing with the Rep, Pittsburgh Public Theater, City Theatre, Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre, Quantum and others.

That's true of many previous performers of the year. Our rule is that winning performances must be in shows produced here, not tours. Because we also take into account work over several years, local performers are inevitably favored. So of the winners going back 27 years (there have been no repeats), half are still active here regularly, with others returning occasionally.

This is evidence of the stability and quality of Pittsburgh's acting pool, exercising its skills in a dozen or so professional companies alongside as many semi-professional ones. Feeding them are many more community, amateur and student shows.

Although the final decision on the award is mine, both it and the other accomplishments listed below draw also on the reviews and advice of Sharon Eberson and Bob Hoover, plus occasional other Post-Gazette reviewers. Listed in no special order, these accomplishments are those we thought the best of 2011. They complete the review of the year that began with the Top Ten shows announced Dec. 22.

Leading men

Among Ms. Klatscher's strongest competitors was Leo Marks, who played lead roles in "The Importance of Being Earnest," "House & Garden" and "Antony & Cleopatra" (all PICT), most wonderfully as Algernon in "Earnest," joyously snapping off dialogue as though every word were the tastiest thing possible.

Mr. Marks is joined on our list of 10 top leading men by Brandon Gill, the ebullient young Franco in "Superior Donuts" (Public); Robert Cuccioli, Capt. Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" (Pittsburgh CLO); David Whalen in several roles but especially as Holmes in "The Mask of Moriarty" (PICT); and Martin Giles, ditto, but especially Teddy in "House & Garden."

Also Alan Stanford, Oscar Wilde playing Lady Bracknell in "Earnest"; Ben Cain as "King Hedley II" (Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre); Phil Winters, Coleman in "The Lonesome West" (Playhouse Rep); Luke Macfarlane as "Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir" (City); and Tim Hartman, the Cat in "Seussical" (Pittsburgh Musical Theatre) but also Marcellus Shale, a seductive-repellent villain in "Off the Record XI."

Leading women

It's hard to limit the men to 10, but it's even harder limiting the women. Right behind Ms. Klatscher come Carolina Loyola-Garcia, El Duende in "Maria de Buenos Aires" (Quantum); Catherine Eaton as "Electra" (Public); Elizabeth Stanley, Lucy in "Jekyll & Hyde" (CLO); Liz Callaway in "Love Changes Everything" (CLO); and Helena Ruoti, Trish in "House & Garden."

Also Robin Walsh, Olivia in "Twelfth Night" (Quantum); Jaime Slavinsky, Jean in "Dead Man's Cell Phone" (Organic Theatre); Kelly McAndrew, Brodie in "Precious Little"; Angela Reed, Sarah in "Time Stands Still" (City); and Courtney Bassett in "The Marvelous Wonderettes" (CLO Cabaret).

Supporting women

This is another strong category, led by the effervescent Bria Walker and Jocelyn Bioh, Shaunta Iyun and Osha in "Marcus; or, the Secret of Sweet" (City). Joining them are Robin Abramson, Mandy in "Time Stands Still"; Lisa Harrow, Clytemnestra in "Electra"; and Penelope Lindblom, Vivian in "Mercy & the Firefly" (Playhouse Rep).

Also Theo Allyn, three roles in "Precious Little"; Mariana Squerciati, Betty the typist in "Louder Faster" (City); Natalie Hatcher, the homeless lady in "A New Brain" (Bald Theatre); Shammen McCune, Segal Mohammed in "Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods"; and Karen Baum, Neasa in "Shining City" (Off the Wall Productions).

Supporting men

James FitzGerald is pretty much always a best supporting actor, but here we choose him especially for the varied roles he played in "The End of the Affair" (Quantum). He is joined by David Anthony Berry, Gabriel in "Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods"; Edward James Hyland, the tutor in "Electra"; Patrick Jordan, Oliver in "Mercy & the Firefly"; David Droxler, Father Walsh-Welsh in "The Lonesome West"; Mark Staley, Orsino in "Twelfth Night"; Jeffrey Carpenter, Jerzy in "Louder Faster"; and Michael Fuller, nerdy Tom in "Hunter Gatherers" (Bricolage).

Best of the rest

Duos: Gab Cody and Rita Reis take the twin statuettes for their Sophie and Kiki in the play Ms. Cody wrote with Ms. Reis' collaboration, "Fat Beckett" (Quantum).

Solos: Here I'll break the rules, since two of the best solo shows of the year were imported and the third was a one-time-only showcase: Jessica Dickey in her own "Amish Project" (City), Daniel Beaty in his own "Emergency" (486 Club at August Wilson Center) and Tami Dixon in her own (under development) "South Side Stories" (Momentum at City).

Directors: Our most active directors are those who run theaters and assign themselves work. Fortunately, they're good at what they do. At the Public, Ted Pappas directed four shows, his best being "Superior Donuts" and "Electra." At City, Tracy Brigden directed three, "Louder Faster" showing the cleverest work and "Precious Little" the best result. At PICT, Andrew Paul directed four, his best being "House." At Quantum, Karla Boos directed two, "Maria de Buenos Aires" proving a more complex achievement than even her outdoor "Twelfth Night."

Other directing achievements: Bob Cuccioli, "Jekyll & Hyde"; Jeff Carpenter, "Hunter Gatherers"; Kim Martin, "Lonesome West"; Pamela Berlin, "Red" (Public); Jed Harris, "Mad Forest" (CMU); Sheila McKenna, "Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods"; and Martin Giles, "The End of the Affair."

Set design: Tony Ferrieri towered over Pittsburgh as staff designer for both City and Quantum, doing 10 or so shows in all; I'd pick "Marcus" and "Maria de Buenos Aires," respectively, as his best. Gianni Downs was also busy, doing four shows for PICT and two for Point Park, including the delicious "Illyria,"

Lighting design: This category was dominated by Andrew David Ostrowski, who seemed to polish off a couple of shows a week.

Costume design: A few that stood out were Alejo Vietti, "Camelot" (Public); Ange Vesco, "Marcus"; the busy Richard Parsakian, "Maria de Buenos Aires"; Tony Ray Hicks, "Love Changes Everything"; and the all-male "Earnest" can thank Joan O'Cleary and Joan Markert for their slick suits and beautiful gowns.

Video projections are a growing design focus. No others matched the artistry and technique of Joseph Seamans (with videographer Mark Knobil) for "Maria de Buenos Aires" or Jessi Sedon-Essad for "A Child's Guide to Heresy" (Playhouse Rep).

Bands: Small -- Doug Levine's trio for "Sam Bendrix." Somewhat larger -- Andres Cladera's ensemble for "Maria de Buenos Aires," with Benjamin Bogart soloing on the bandoneon. Very big -- the CLO orchestra, featured onstage in "Love Changes Everything." Most fun -- Cello Fury (a trio) in "Zombie Apocalypse" (Bricolage).

Dance: Rather than conventional musical choreography, we celebrate Michele de la Reza and Dane Toney in "Maria de Buenos Aires" and Aliane Baquerot in "Love Changes Everything."

Language of the year: French, spoken extensively in "House & Garden" (kudos to the exquisite Nike Doukas), in the frame story of "Earnest" and throughout "Fat Beckett."

Best party: PICT gala? City cabaret? CLO opening nights? Every "Midnight Radio" at Bricolage? There's no best -- all parties are welcome.

Welcome back: So is City Theatre's "Momentum" weekend of new plays -- and that's a party, too.

Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson: 412-216-1944. First Published January 4, 2012 5:00 AM


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