Theater Critic Picks

Dallas-Fort Worth theater critics applaud 2019-20's resilient shining stars

Dallas-Fort Worth theater critics applaud 2019-20's shining stars

Stage West presents The Children
The Children at Stage West was one of the first streamed shows after the shutdown. Photo by Evan Michael Woods
Devin Berg in Lizzie at Imprint Theatreworks
Devin Berg starred as the titular Lizzie in Imprint Theatreworks' spectular production. Photo by Jason Anderson
Everything Will Be Fine
Prism Movement Theater brought art to the parking lot with Everything Will Be Fine. Photo courtesy of Prism Movement Theater
Noises Off at Theatre Three
Noises Off at Theatre Three was incredibly complicated — but didn't look it. Photo by Jeffrey Schmidt
WingSpan Theatre Company presents Two By Beckett: Footfalls and Not I
Susan Sargeant and Jennifer Kuenzer each delivered stunning solo performances in Two by Beckett at Wingspan Theatre Company. Photo by Lowell Sargeant
The Bippy Bobby Boo Show at Theatre Three
Justin Locklear led The Bippy Bobby Boo Show at Theatre Three, developed by Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. Photo by Jeffrey Schmidt
Xavier Cano and cast of Dallas Theater Center's In the Heights
In the Heights at Dallas Theater Center had many dancing for joy. Photo by Karen Almond
WaterTower Theatre presents I Am My Own Wife
Bob Hess turned in a remarkable performance in I Am My Own Wife, streamed by WaterTower Theatre. Photo by Jason Anderson
Kitchen Dog Theater presents a love offering
Local playwright Jonathan Norton struck a chord with a love offering at Kitchen Dog Theater. Photo by Jordan Fraker
Undermain Theatre presents Madame Bovary
Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso shone in Madame Bovary at Undermain Theatre. Photo by Stephen Webster
Stage West presents The Children
Devin Berg in Lizzie at Imprint Theatreworks
Everything Will Be Fine
Noises Off at Theatre Three
WingSpan Theatre Company presents Two By Beckett: Footfalls and Not I
The Bippy Bobby Boo Show at Theatre Three
Xavier Cano and cast of Dallas Theater Center's In the Heights
WaterTower Theatre presents I Am My Own Wife
Kitchen Dog Theater presents a love offering
Undermain Theatre presents Madame Bovary

Critics are famous for not agreeing with each other, but there's one thing the Dallas-Fort Worth Critics Forum unanimously decided (via Zoom): This was one very strange year.

So far in 2020, COVID-19 has devastated the arts. However, it also provided theater companies the opportunity to get really, really creative in how they present productions. Since the Critics Forum's season runs from September 1-August 31, that means we had about six months of "normal" theatergoing before the coronavirus hit.

With that in mind, the list that follows takes into account the strange times we're all living in. Some productions were able to be recorded and broadcast, one was conceived as a drive-in experience, and several were presented traditionally back when we could all gather safely in the same room (remember what that was like?).

Not everyone's picks made it through the voting process, which needed either more than 50 percent of the votes or a unanimous decision if only two or three critics had seen the production. Look for personal favorites not included here to pop up in critics' end-of-year lists (though some also appear on my most memorable moments of 2019 list).

Without further ado, here are the awards:

Outstanding director

  • Jeffrey Colangelo and Kwame David Lilly, Everything Will Be Fine, Prism Movement Theater
  • Marianne Galloway, The Lifespan of a Fact, Stage West
  • Sorany Gutiérrez, Villa, Teatro Dallas
  • Tina Parker, a love offering, Kitchen Dog Theater
  • Susan Sargeant, Two by Beckett: Footfalls and Not I, WingSpan Theatre Company
  • Illana Stein, Hans & Sophie, Amphibian Stage
  • Kara-Lynn Vaeni, The Children, Stage West and Noises Off, Theatre Three
  • James Vasquez, In the Heights, Dallas Theater Center
  • Ashley H. White, Lizzie, Imprint Theatreworks

Outstanding performance by an actor

  • Bill Bolender, Mrs. Haggardly, Ochre House Theatre
  • Michael Federico, Noises Off, Theatre Three and Romeo and Juliet, Fair Assembly
  • McClendon “Mickey” Giles, Mlima’s Tale, Second Thought Theatre
  • Bob HessThe Children, Stage West and I Am My Own Wife, WaterTower Theatre
  • Sean Hudock, Hans & Sophie, Amphibian Stage
  • Nick Leos, The Bippy Bobby Boo Show, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group in partnership with Theatre Three
  • Justin Locklear, The Bippy Bobby Boo Show, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group in partnership with Theatre Three
  • Tadeo Martinez, Noises Off, Theatre Three
  • Zander Pryor, Andi Boi, Dallas Children’s Theater
  • Christopher Llewyn Ramirez, In the Heights, Dallas Theater Center

Outstanding performance by an actress

  • Devin Berg, Lizzie, Imprint Theatreworks
  • Rhonda Boutté, a love offering, Kitchen Dog Theater
  • Rebekah Brockman, Hans & Sophie, Amphibian Stage
  • Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso, Queen of Basel, Kitchen Dog Theater and Madame Bovary, Undermain Theatre
  • Jennifer Kuenzer, Footfalls, WingSpan Theatre Company
  • Kelsey Milbourn, Ada and the Engine, Stage West; Everything Will Be Fine, Prism Movement Company; and The Thanksgiving Play, Undermain Theatre
  • Susan Sargeant, Not I, WingSpan Theatre Company
  • Jaquai Wade Pearson, Romeo and Juliet, Fair Assembly
  • Catherine Whiteman, Dot, Soul Rep Theatre Company

Outstanding performance by an ensemble cast

  • Everything Will Be Fine, Prism Movement Theater
  • In the Heights, Dallas Theater Center
  • Lizzie, Imprint Theatreworks
  • Mrs. Haggardly, Ochre House Theatre
  • Noises Off, Theatre Three
  • Playwrights in the Newsroom, AT&T Performing Arts Center Elevator Project
  • The Children, Stage West
  • Villa, Teatro Dallas

Outstanding design or creative contribution

  • Sara Bollinger, Devan Bell, Rachel Francis, Gilbert Glenn, Bree Hill, and Rebecca Lowrey, music performance, Lizzie, Imprint Theatreworks
  • Nick Brethauer, set design, Villa, Teatro Dallas, and set design, Two by Beckett, WingSpan Theatre Company
  • Design team, Hans & Sophie, Amphibian Stage
  • Design team, Red Chariot, Undermain Theatre
  • Tara Houston, set design, Swimming While Drowning, Cara Mía Theatre Company
  • Rebecca Lowrey, music direction, Lizzie, Imprint Theatreworks
  • Nigel Newton, original music and music performance, Mlima’s Tale, Second Thought Theatre
  • Jeffrey Schmidt, set design, Noises Off, Theatre Three
  • Will Turbyne, set design, The Children, Stage West
  • Jessie Wallace, costume design, Lizzie, Imprint Theatreworks
  • Mason York, sound design, Mlima’s Tale, Second Thought Theatre

Outstanding new play or musical

  • Alabaster, Audrey Cefaly, Kitchen Dog Theater (National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere)
  • Andi Boi, Bruce R. Coleman, Dallas Children’s Theater (co-produced with Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and in partnership with First Unitarian Church of Dallas)
  • Everything Will Be Fine, Zoe Kerr, Prism Movement Theater
  • Hans & Sophie, Deborah Yarchun, Sean Hudock, and Illana Stein, Amphibian Stage
  • a love offering, Jonathan Norton, Kitchen Dog Theater
  • Mrs. Haggardly, Matthew Posey, Ochre House Theater

Outstanding touring production

  • The Band’s Visit, AT&T Performing Arts Center and Dallas Summer Musicals
  • Come from Away, Dallas Summer Musicals
  • Once on This Island, AT&T Performing Arts Center

Special citations

To Amphibian Stage and artistic director Kathleen Culebro for their years-long commitment to the well-being of North Texas veterans and their families through the nationally recognized DE-CRUIT program founded by actor-veteran Stephan Wolfert. Using acting, stage work, and other tools from the theater arts, DE-CRUIT group classes (and now online sessions) "treat trauma through Shakespeare and science" — and give veterans the life skills and self-awareness they need to begin the work of recovery, and to reconnect with the community around them.

To Amy Stevenson for founding and hosting Mama’s Party, a live music staple in DFW since 2006. The cabaret has regularly showcased up-and-coming talent, established professionals, tour casts, and local favorites, occasionally with a fundraising component, and even transitioned to online during the pandemic.

The primitive paintings of animals in Kitchen Dog Theater’s Alabaster lining the set helped create an authentic atmosphere for this play about a reclusive amateur folk artist whose work is made on shards of wood caused by a tornado that devastated her family. The paintings were a group project of the cast, crew, and friends.

For many theatergoers, Prism Movement Theater’s drive-in show Everything Will Be Fine was our first live performance after the pandemic began. With a deeply present nonverbal narrative and beautiful choreography, the out-of-the-box play (performed at two venues in Dallas, and currently in Fort Worth) filled our hearts with the hope and magic that only live performance can bring.

To Jeffrey Schmidt, artistic director of Theatre Three, for filming the play The Immigrant with a technique no other theater company has used during the pandemic: The actors were filmed separately in front of a green screen at the theater, using social distancing and masks when other cast and crew members were in the space, and for creating the scenic illustrations and fusing it together for a seamless digital performance.

To Isa Zhanbolot, Brandon Coleman, and the teams from Grob Technologies, Inc., and Dev-Team, Inc. that created the 3-D animation and augmented reality app used at the end of Bruce R. Coleman’s play Andi Boi at Dallas Children’s Theater, allowing the audience to play along with a fictional game played by the teenagers in the story.

Participating critics

Lindsey Wilson, CultureMap and Arts & Culture Texas
Cristee Cook, Dallas Art Beat
Janice L. Franklin, TheaterJones
Jan Farrington, TheaterJones
Martha HeimbergDallas Weekly and TheaterJones
Arnold Wayne JonesDallas Voice
Mark Lowry, TheaterJones
Manny MendozaDallas Morning News
Jill Sweeney, TheaterJones

Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum is an organization of professional, paid critics that recognizes outstanding theatrical contributions in North Texas. Members see 40 or more productions per season (Sept. 1-Aug. 31) and are not practicing theater artists.