Neal Zoren’s Philadelphia Theater Critic Awards, 2018

Republished by kind permission from Neal’s Paper.

PASSING STRANGE at the Wilma. Photo by Bill Hebert, courtesy of the Wilma Theater.

Excellence, bred from assurance, has become a constant in Philadelphia theater.

Gone, in particular, is the self-consciousness that plagued the early years when Philadelphia morphed from a touring town to one that boasts several dozen homegrown theaters, a cadre of able actors, and the confidence that puts all of the above to good use.

Artistic directors have the grasp on the classics, the knowledge of the general dramatic literature, and a pipeline to new work that precludes former habits of mounting old plays by writers with current New York hits, mitigating classics with gimmicks, or taking any script that came down the pike to be able to stage something new.

Philadelphia today can compete with any city in the world for theater distinction.

Reviewing my annual and seasonal diaries proves that. Ranking shows is not a cavalier act. A lot of thought is put into gauging not only the quality of a production but its difficulty to stage and its originality.

Of the 100 shows considered, more than two thirds could be seen again with pleasure. One regret about theater is it is ephemeral. You have to see it when it’s there to be seen or, poof, it’s part of history and someone else’s conversation.

As a critic, I’ve been asked what I look for when I see a play or performance. The answer is “nothing.” I let the production find me and work from there. In most cases, I am happy to have a playwright, director, and cast create an individual experience. I don’t go to the theater to criticize or rate it, or to be edified or informed by it, although it’s fine if the latter happens. I go because I enjoy theater. I go because I like being entertained. I go because I get to see different points of view and different ways off staging a script. I go to be exposed to hundreds of minds a year, minds of creators and interpreters. My hope is I can contribute something by stepping forward to take the role of analyst.

In addition to loving actors, I have also had a lifelong affection for awards. I invite anyone to test my boast that I can tell you every actor ever nominated for an Academy Award. I can tell you every actor who’s been given a Tony Award.

I see more than 100 plays a year in Philadelphia alone, I like to talk about what I experience, but my life, for many reasons, most intentional, is solitary. So I address the world through writing. I speak my mind as accurately as I can. I don’t pretend to be right. I rarely consider myself wrong.

So ladies and gentlemen, the recipients of the 2018 Philadelphia Theater Critic’s Awards are:

BEST PRODUCTION: PASSING STRANGE by Stew and Heidi Rodewald, Wilma Theater, Philadelphia

BEST DIRECTOR: TEA ALAGIĆ, Passing Strange, Wilma Theater, Philadelphia

BEST ACTOR: DANNY RUTIGLIANO, The Producers, Bristol Riverside Theatre, Bristol, Pa.

BEST ACTRESS: KRISSY FRAELICH, Next to Normal, Media Theatre, Media, Pa.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: GREG WOOD, Twelfth Night, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Center Valley, Pa. The Humans, Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, Pa., and Noises Off, Walnut Street Theatre

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: REBECCA ROBBINS, The Triumph of Love, Bristol Riverside Theatre, Bristol, Pa.

For Neal’s complete top 40 rankings in each category visit Neal’s Paper>>>

See Neal’s picks over the last 50 years >>>

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