The Best in Philadelphia Theater, 2015

Each January, local theater critic Neal Zoren announces his favorite production, direction, and male and female actor and male and female supporting actor for the previous calendar year. Zoren saw over 200 shows in 2015 and narrowed his selections five nominees in each category before announcing his final picks. Here are his choices for the 2015 awards (see an explanation and longer lists of nominees on NealsPaper.com).

Matteo Scammell, winner of the Neal Zoren's award for Best Actor in Philadelphia, 2015.

Matteo Scammell, winner of the Neal Zoren’s award for Best Actor in Philadelphia, 2015.

Best Production 

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? By Edward Albee, Theatre Exile, Philadelphia
La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave, Opera Philadelphia, Philadelphia
Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Wilma Theatre, Philadelphia
Five Mile Lake by Rachel Bonds, McCarter Theatre, Princeton, N.J.
Sizwe Banzi is Dead by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona, McCarter Theatre, Princeton

Best Director

JOE CANUSO, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Theatre Exile, Philadelphia
Paul Curran, La Traviata, Opera Philadelphia, Philadelphia
Emily Mann, Five Mile Lake and Baby Doll, McCarter Theatre, Princeton
Matthew Warchus, Matilda, National Tour, Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Stephen Wadsworth, A Comedy of Tenors, McCarter Theatre, Princeton

Best Actor

MATTEO SCAMMELL, The Hairy Ape, EgoPo Classic Theatre, Philadelphia
Dylan McDermott, Baby Doll, McCarter Theatre, Princeton
Michael Genet, All My Sons, People’s Light & Theatre Company, Malvern
Pearce Bunting, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Theatre Exile, Philadelphia
Scott Greer, The Whale and Rizzo, Theatre Exile, and To the Moon, 1812 Productions, Philadelphia

Best Actress

Zainab Jah, Hamlet, Wilma Theatre, Philadelphia
Lisette Oropesa, La Traviata, Opera Philadelphia, Philadelphia
Melanye Finister, All My Sons, People’s Light & Theatre Company, Malvern
Kristine Fraelich, Gypsy, Media Theatre, Media, Pa. and Into the Woods, Theatre Horizon, Norristown
Catharine Slusar, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Theatre Exile, Philadelphia

Best Supporting Actor

 JAKE BLOUCH, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Theatre Exile, Philadelphia and Unnecessary Farce, Act II Playhouse, Ambler, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, 11th Hour Productions, Philadelphia, and A Great War, Iron Pig, Philadelphia
Akeem Davis, In the Blood, Theatre Horizon, Norristown and Rizzo, Theatre Exile, Philadelphia and Unnecessary Farce, Act II Playhouse, Ambler and The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane, InterAct Theatre, Philadelphia
Bradley Dean, A Comedy of Tenors, McCarter Theatre, Princeton
Zach Wobensmith, Billy Elliot, Media Theatre, Media
Ed Swidey, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Wilma Theatre, Philadelphia

Best Supporting Actress

MARIEKE HEEBINK, After the Rehearsal and Persona, Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Fringe Arts, Philadelphia
Jennifer Blood, Matilda, National Tour, Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Annie Dow, Song for the Disappeared, Passage Theatre, Trenton, N.J.
Tamara Anderson, Ghost, Media Theatre, Media
Mahira Kakkar, Five Mile Lake, McCarter Theatre, Princeton

Congratulations to Mr. Canuso, Mr. Scammell, Ms. Jah, Mr. Blouch, and Ms. Heebink. Four of you showed new depth beyond the fine work you’ve all revealed in the past. The fifth, Marieke Heebink displayed extraordinary intensity that filled the 23rd Street Armory stage with emotion and human sensibility.

Jake Blouch showed great range as he maintained cool urbanity and uncrackable imperturbability as Nick in Exile’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf then sported de rigueur kilts and a Scottish burr, along with a combination of nonchalance and perfectionism, as the comic assassin in Act II’s Unnecessary Farce. Mr. Blouch also scored as the disillusioned jaded soldier in James A. Christy, Jr.’s A Great War for Iron Age.

Matteo Scammell embodied the angst and resentment of Yank, the merchant seaman spurned by a debutante because of his class. It looked as if veins would burst in Mr. Scammell’s neck as he roared his rage at an unfair world. By contrast, Mr. Scammell can play both the mild, conciliatory child in Whit MacLaughlin’s “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates” for the Arden while also portraying a supercilious administrative assistant who almost causes the Brinkers more years of suffering by keeping the doctor he serves from the family.

Zainab Jah is a wonder in general. Her performance as Prudence in the Wilma’s The Convert continues to reverberate in my memory, and her Hamlet brimmed with thoughtfulness and intelligence. Ms. Zah was even magnificent is a small part in Antony and Cleopatra at McCarter Theatre.

Joe Canuso, a director who always infuses his productions with precision and detail showed how well he understood Albee’s George and Martha and directed his cast to remain on an emotionally human scale while being aware of their superiority at gamesmanship. The wit and sophistication of the production comes through as well as the daunting viciousness cultivated by the bored and idle inteligensia. Mr. Canuso and his company, all of whom are cited, showed how intensity and cunning can be hilariously entertaining and piercingly ugly at once.

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About the author

Neal Zoren for NealsPaper

Neal of the Nealspaper is a fan of all forms of live entertainment, movies, and television. He is also a constant reader and a frequent traveler. He writes for NealsPaper.com, a place for people to come to read one authoritative voice in the dialogue, and find out what might be worthwhile — or not — as you plan your entertainment outings.