I saw a lot of plays this year. Like, a lot. Many of them were great, but a few folks stood out in particular; so I created the Billies, the first-ever slightly arbitrary totally subjective end-of-year theater award from a Santa Fe newspaper, to recognize them. (They're named after the first character I had the pleasure of portraying on a Santa Fe stage—more on that later.) There were many more deserving folks than I could fit here, so you'll just have to keep reading Acting Out to hear me gush about 'em in the new year.
Here's to our 2017 selves; see you in 2018. ~ Char
Most Likely to Swing Wildly from your Heartstrings
Apollo Garcia Orellana as Joseph in PIE, Theater Grottesco, April 13-30
This show from Santa Fe's go-to experimental troupe had me scratching my head. Furrowing my brow. Mouth hanging open with a slight Elvis lip. It covered quantum physics, the geology of the Grand Canyon, race relations, the history of commerce and much more in a 2-hour show with less than 15 pages of dialogue. It was, well … weird. Awesome, sure. But weird.
So imagine my surprise when suddenly Apollo Garcia Orellana was bathed in stark white light, talking straight from the broken heart of his character, a ruddy youth minister in training. In the hands of a less capable, less genuine actor, the script's turn toward a guaranteed tear-jerker would feel cheap—but here, it was brutal. I didn't even realize I was crying until I was absolutely blubbering. Like a child, I tell you. Oh, he was also swinging from the ceiling while doing this. No bigs.
BONUS POINTS: This is the only show on this page that you can actually see again! After winning a National Theater Project grant, Theater Grottesco is taking PIE on the road; a national tour through 2020 kicks off in Albuquerque Jan. 10-27 at the q-Staff Theater. Get info at theatergrottesco.org.
Most Cat-Like Reflexes in the Sound Booth
Lynn Smith for Moonlight and Magnolias, Adobe Rose Theatre, March 16-April 2
A good sound person goes unnoticed. A really good sound person gets noticed about an hour after the production, when you think: "Wait, holy shit! Those were all sound cues!"
One scene in the comedy Moonlight and Magnolias features three characters repeatedly slapping each other in quick succession. The majority of the slaps were fake, paired with sharp sound effects triggered by the impeccable button-pushing of stage manager Lynn Smith. I didn't even notice at first how remarkably perfectly timed they were, but once I got home I realized that every last one was airtight. Lynn, you should probably be an air traffic controller for your next job. But not too soon—we still need you in the booth for now.
Director Most Likely to Roll on the Ground With You
Vaughn Irving, Unnecessary Farce, Santa Fe Playhouse, Feb. 23-March 12
Okay, full disclosure: I was in Unnecessary Farce. That's how I know this award is deserved. I was playing Billie Dwyer, a witless cop who (long story short) ends up bound and gagged in the second act and must inchworm across the floor and make her way from a prone position to standing in about 90 seconds. It was ridiculous, it was hilarious, and it was really hard.
I am not the most athletic of humans. Three days before we opened, I was still unable to accomplish this feat. While sitting dejectedly on the set during a break in rehearsal the Monday before our Thursday opening night, Irving came over and asked what was wrong. I told him—without use of my hands, I couldn't figure out how to stand up. He then proceeded to clasp his hands behind his back and lie down on the carpet, contorting his grasshopper body into all kinds of unnatural shapes in order to figure out how I could best do this. He may have gotten rug burn on his face.
I've done a lot of shows. I've worked with some truly amazing directors. But never have I had a director literally get in my place and figure out a stupid slapstick stunt with me. It is this passion, dedication and downright friendliness, extrapolated to all members of the company, that made the Santa Fe Playhouse a great stage on which to act.
Most Not-Annoying Reimagining of Physical Comedy
Hamilton Turner, everything
Every couple shows we saw in Santa Fe featured Hamilton Turner in some way; the only way I knew time was actually passing was that his beard was getting more and more glorious. The man is busy, and he's also really damn funny.
Santa Fe University of Art and Design grad Turner has a unique ability to take physical comedy and elevate it from the realm of slapstick to a place of relatable, endearing vulnerability. In Adobe Rose's Moonlight and Magnolias, in which two grown men act out the script of Gone with the Wind, he was the one birthing a baby (among many other things); In The Next Room at the Playhouse featured his insufferable Leo, heartbroken and disconsolate, until he discovered the joys of an electric vibrator; in Anton Chekov's short play "A Marriage Proposal," presented as part of Oasis Theatre Company's Marriage by the Masters, his hypochondriacal, water-gulping and nearly dead Lomov actually brought tears of laughter to my eyes; in the Playhouse's collection of short plays, Benchwarmers, his portrayal of Devin found him running through portals and turning occasionally into what we can only assume was some kind of velociraptor-Demogorgon hybrid.
Turner has that fantastic quality of an actor who is not afraid to make fun of himself, but in taking that risk, he never actually does act a fool—he is simply good, and thoughtful, and invaluable to the Santa Fe theater scene.
MVF (Most Valuable Folks)
3205 Calle Marie, 424-1601, teatroparaguas.org
The theater scene in Santa Fe, as I have found this year, is a pretty welcoming place. I have been very pleasantly surprised by the community I've found among all of Santa Fe's stages, but one place stands out.
Paraguas, which staged its first production in 2004, says it has three main foci: Contemporary plays, its poetry performance series, and the retelling of traditional folk tales, all of which focus specifically on Hispanic and Latinx writers and performers.
That list, while vast enough on its own, still doesn't give Paraguas enough credit for all the people to whom it gives a home. So many other groups have found space here—think New Mexico Poetry Trails' open mic nights, readings and solo performances by women and nonbinary folks, a stage for venueless companies like Odenbear and New Mexico Actors Lab, and rehearsal space for groups like Santa Fe Improv.
And, of course, on a personal note, Executive Director Argos MacCallum and Community Liaison Coordinator Julia Gay have always been so welcoming, available and helpful in the creation of this fledgling column; their sense of service speaks volumes for the organization they run. Felicidades, Paraguas.