The whole notion of “best” is really problematic, to say the least, when it comes to the performing arts. However, our culture loves nothing more than to judge, so we’re overrun with lists & events that actually rank one entity over another. It’s pointless, divisive, and violates the spirit of entertainment and the arts.

But rather than rant against ‘em, join ‘em, right? Besides, I have a reason. There’s one constant in the world of writing and community theater: love. That’s why we do this stuff. That’s why we write, or give up our nights and weekends to act. Love. Sure, some of us are gearing up for a career, but mostly, we’re doing it because we have to. It’s in our system and it just won’t leave us alone. And sometimes we DO want a little recognition. As silly as it is to call one performance “Best,” we need a little of that. And frankly, doesn’t it make more sense to hear one person’s opinion than the collective voice of hundreds? To paraphrase Men in Black, a person is smart, but people are stupid. So screw democracy…here are some of MY favorite things from the world of (mostly local) theatre.

DISCLAIMER: You are right. I am wrong.

So enjoy, agree, disagree, be offended…and then make your own list and we’ll swap, okay?

By the way, it’s a total coincidence that the name of this set acronyms as “MAMET Awards.” I swear.

The “Great Unpublished Short Plays I Didn’t Write” Award

I’ll be leaving out more than I’m including. But here are eight that jump out at me, like plastic moles in boardwalk games…

“Voodoo Barbie,” by George Tietze. Take one little girl, her single mother, and a few Barbie dolls, and you have one of the darkest, funniest, and most wicked pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. Pure brilliance.

“Story of the Little Man,” by Mike Moran. Here’s a squirmy little number that probably feels like a twisted knife in the guts of the audience. It starts out like a comedy, but somewhere it veers off into deep, dark truths about fear and pain. Craftily open-ended, too.

“The List,” by Kristyn Leigh Robinson. It’s damn near impossible to pick a favorite K-Play – too many of them are just too good – but right now I’m feeling “The List.” It has everything – great characters, lots of humor, a cool twist on a recent phenomenon, theatrical surreality, and a sad but satisfying ending.

“Elephants and Coffee,” by Aoise Stratford. It’s emotional, moving, maddening, neurotic, and very, very smart. It feels like genius because it is…and it happens to be one of the greatest love stories ever told.

“Lion Tamer,” by Rich Orloff. Chances are, you’ve seen an Orloff play. They’re often clever and funny, which is why this one might throw you a bit. Like “Story of the Little Man,” it begins like a comedy, then it takes a really weird turn into uncharted territory.

“That Homo Play,” by Bob Johnson. Haven’t seen nor heard from this guy since, but “That Homo Play” is one of the funniest & most subversive skit/plays I’ve ever seen. A google search tells me the play was produced in NYC, and that makes me happy.

“Overanalysis,” by Gabriel Shanks. Half performance-art, half-theater, all funny and true. “Overanalysis” is one of those rare plays that uses offbeat and funky storytelling techniques but never feels hip or self-aware.

“Pee Shy,” by Joe Byers. I’m biased because I was in “Pee Shy” in Delaware, but there’s a reason why Paula Shulak of Community News called it “one of the funniest plays I have ever seen.” It is. Holy crap. I’ve never had a harder time keeping a straight face in my life.

The “One Guy Did All That?” Award

Before I even met Greg Robleto, I was blown away by two of his Drama League performances. One was a scene-stealing turn as a “Gangster” in Kiss Me Kate. The other was an intense, creepily convincing performance as “Kendrick” in A Few Good Men. It took me a very long time to realize that the same man played both roles…he was that convincing in two incredibly different parts.

Greg Robleto (which must always be sung to the tune of “In the Ghetto”) has since appeared in substantial roles in JCS, How to Succeed, and Midsummer, and he’s always great. He’s also co-created the Delaware Shakespeare Festival, co-directed Joseph at the WDL, and directed my play “The Boy Who…” off-off-Broadway. He’s such a friendly and funny person, on and off stage, that I think we (in the local theatre community) don’t always appreciate what an incredibly diverse and deep talent he has. So Mr. Robleto – I couldn’t be happier that on that cold and gray Delaware morn, a poor little baby child was born.

The “Favorite Lines that No One Says in Real Life but Find Their Way into Nearly Every Play” Award

SHE:  Why are you acting like this?

HE:  Like what?

SHE:  Like this.

Matt’s “My Arm Hurts from Patting Myself on the Back” Award

The five-show run of “The Boy Who was Born With a Tail” in NYC. Four beautiful, deeply truthful performances, really crisp direction from Mr. Robleto and Kathy Buterbaugh, and (here’s the arm part) a damn fine script. I wouldn’t change a word, or a thing about that week. I couldn’t be prouder.

The “Get This Guy an Agent” Award

Richard Gaw. People need to see Mary Catherine, “Two Chairs,” “Ethan’s People.” The man can write. He brings style and humor to every subject he touches, no matter how intense or difficult, and he creates drama that can leave you reeling and exhausted.

The “Great Performances on Delaware Stages” Awards

I’ve seen many outstanding performances on local stages that I’ve come to expect them, and I’m rarely let down. But here are the ones that, for one reason or another, have been the most memorable.

I realize that this one will get me into big, big trouble. Please forgive me, in advance.

Don Dean, The Boys Next Door, Chapel Street Players (1997). I cannot imagine a bigger challenge than portraying a man with severe mental retardation – it’s so easy to rely on tics and indications. But Mr. Dean portrayed Lucien P. Smith with unforgettable grace and dignity. In my least favorite scene in the play, the actor must break character and deliver a monologue to the audience – it’s a stunt, and reminds you that this is only a play. But when Dean did it, it was moving and powerful. An absolutely perfect performance.

Molly Cahill, Hamlet, Wilmington Drama League (2002). How does one effectively go mad onstage? How can an actress possibly deliver those final strange, lyrical lines without calling attention to the fact that they are, in fact, lines? Some actress try to emphasize Ophelia’s sadness, and others go over the top with hysteria. Ms. Cahill tackled the scene with anger and realism, and absolutely captured the bizarre and beautiful text. She was excellent throughout the play (which was uneven), but absolutely spellbinding, and chilling, in her final scene.

Jill Knapp, Jesus Christ Superstar, Wilmington Drama League (2003). I was hoping to disqualify performances of shows I was in, but in this case, Ms. Knapp has earned her exception. Pure emotion, pure power, incredible singing…but then, lots of Mary Magdalene portrayers can bring that. What made her performance so special is that she never lost track of the story or the big picture. Many actresses turn the role into a showcase, but Jill was always part of the ensemble – and that made her work all the more stunning.

James Kassees, George Tietze, Jason Stockdale, Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), City Theater (2003). I’ve never seen three people work harder. Pure energy, insane comedy. It could have gone horribly wrong but it never did, thanks to the awesome talents of these three bozos.

Anthony Bosco, Pink Thunderbird, Chapel Street Players (2005). Mr. Bosco, a very smart and streetwise man, completely disappeared into the role of “Ray,” a dim and naïve bumpkin from Texas. He also did something masterful: he found a way to deliver punchlines in a manner that was both hilarious and real.

Tina M. Sheing, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wilmington Drama League (2005). The “narrator” is such a dream role that it’s easy to forget how difficult it really is. The WDL production emphasized the silly, and it was Tina’s job to create a reflective center. She did so with wonderful grace, humor, and (especially) a natural presence that never detracted from the craziness that surrounded her. A perfectly nuanced performance, delivered with huge pipes and an even bigger heart.

Okay! It was good to get all that out of my system. There will be more. What did I leave out? Write me and tell me, okay?

Until next time…