Poets, Artists and Madmen: Critics' picks 


Best Theater

For its second full year under artistic director Jasson Minadakis, ACTOR'S EXPRESS lived up to its rep as Atlanta's most vital theatrical venue. Bookended by the darkly comic Killer Joe (the season's most delightfully disturbing play) and the more challenging examination of Southern character, Hazard County, Actor's Express produced the plays most likely to start arguments -- in a good way. Even the shows that didn't quite click, like The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer, had more ambition and ideas than most other playhouses' best successes.

887 W. Marietta St., Suite J-10. 404-607-7469. www.actorsexpress.com.

Best Place to See a Play

The Atlanta theater scene's most impressive newcomer of the past year wasn't a person but a place. Theatrical Outfit's new permanent home, the 200-seat BALZER THEATRE, boasts a slick art deco design, a huge stage, a great sound system and not a bad seat in the house. The Balzer Theatre gives skittish audiences more than enough reason to venture downtown so long as Theatrical Outfit stages shows such as Hank Williams: Lost Highway that live up to it.

84 Luckie St. 404-651-4727. www.theatricaloutfit.org.

Best Male Actors

No single male performance knocked it out of the park like the CAST OF TAKE ME OUT at Theatre in the Square's Alley Stage. The nine-man team included the seemingly ubiquitous Daniel May, local stalwarts such as Brik Berkes and Isma'il ibn Conner, the reliably hilarious Matthew Myers and Bill Murphey, and relative rookies Brandon Dirden and Travis Young, who reached new career highs. As the diverse members of a scandal-plagued baseball team, Take Me Out's all-star ensemble even managed to upstage its own shower scenes.

Best Female Actor

In 2005, the acting awesomeness of CAROLYN COOK had a globe-trotting scope. For Georgia Shakespeare's summer repertory, she played fading aristocrats on two continents: New Orleans' Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire and Russia's Madame Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard. For the French-language Theatre du Reve, she starred in Les Précieuses Ridicules. And in her tour de force solo show The Syringa Tree at Horizon Theatre, she shifted from dozens of South African people of different race, gender and class. Cook could be a one-woman United Nations.

Best Comedian

COURTNEY PATTERSON excels in such serious roles as Stella in Georgia Shakespeare's A Streetcar Named Desire or a secretive sister in the Jewish Theatre of the South/True Colors Theatre Company co-production of Brass Birds Don't Sing. But over the past year, she demonstrated the split-second comic timing worthy of a big-screen character actress in such roles as Georgia Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, Aurora Theatre's Last of the Red Hot Lovers (in which she played three different women), and Theatrical Outfit's Hank Williams: Lost Highway, where her honky-tonk vamp-turned-tone-deaf singer routinely ran away with the show.

Best All-Around Play

The Alliance Hertz Stage's TOPDOG/UNDERDOG broke out from the pack to emerge as the year's undisputed can't-miss theatrical event. Our best "guest actors," Joe Wilson Jr. and Kes Khemnu, alternated the roles in Suzan Lori-Parks' Pulitzer-winning drama of three-card monte, the Lincoln assassination and the American dream. Topdog/Underdog even won laurels out of town: The Hertz Stage's co-production with Providence's Trinity Repertory Company earned Kent Gash the "Outstanding Director, Large Company" award from the Theatre Critics of New England.

Best Out of Town Play

By booking midsized touring shows, 14th Street Playhouse has tapped into a huge Atlanta audience and attracted such appealing one-man plays as Leslie Jordan's Like a Dog on Linoleum and Charles Ross' One-Man Star Wars Trilogy. Nevertheless, the most ingenious, robustly theatrical event from out of town turned out to be THE MYSTERY OF CHUNG LING SOO at the 7 Stages Back Stage Theatre. New York's Flying Carpet Theatre paid homage to Houdini-era illusionists and the golden age of magic in an intimate, inventive show that left audiences mesmerized.

Best Local Playwright

A terrific slam poet and winner of the 2005 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award for new local writers, KAREN WURL debuted deliciously witty dark comedy Miss Macbeth at Power Plays, the 2005 Essential Theatre Festival. The pitch-perfect backstage satire mingled so cleverly with homages to "the Scottish Play" that the only tragedy of Miss Macbeth was that it needed to be longer -- and how often can you say that about any play, let alone a new one?

Best New Play Incubator

You usually see hot new plays emerge from little black box theaters, not a city's biggest playhouse. But this year, the ALLIANCE THEATRE served as a launching pad for two big, Broadway-bound, Southern-themed world premieres: The Color Purple musical and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Plus, thanks to a $1.5 million gift from the Kendeda Fund, the Alliance permanently established its Graduate Playwriting Competition to develop bold new works like the Cuban melodrama Day of the Kings. The Alliance did more than pay lip service to the idea that new plays deserve resources.


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