The 2023 'We Hate Theater Awards' Cleveland Theater Awards

And the winners are...

click to enlarge Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 at Great Lakes Theater - Photo by Roger Mastroianni
Photo by Roger Mastroianni
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 at Great Lakes Theater
As a perceptive reader of this column, you are certainly aware that giving out awards for creative work in theater is a fool's errand since it is impossible to measure excellence when every play, performer, director and designer is unique.

That said, here are our "We Hate Theater Awards" Local Theater Awards for 2023. Please understand that this announcement is modeled after the Golden Globes, during which the audience (and the jurors) imbibe or puff the recreational substance of their choosing. So, please join me in taking a couple shots of something to get the ball rolling. I'll be back with you in a second...

Done? Excellent! Let the awards begin. As always, these award categories will be quite different. And there will be significantly fewer awards given out—to allow for more drinking time. And let's toast to that!

While you're sipping, why not go online and subscribe to some of these local theaters that continue to pump out extraordinary theater even after their subscriber bases shrank due to Covid. This is live theater, people, with each performance a unique artisanal creation made just for you on the specific night you attend. How good was it last year? Check this out:

Best Multiple-Play Season: None Too Fragile Theater
This theater in Akron has been nailing it for years, with many of their shows directed by co-founder Sean Derry. And the past season was no exception, with all four of their offerings—True West, Faith Healer, American Buffalo, and Skylight—kicking serious and serial ass. One hopes they can work out a new lease on their performing space for 2024, because NTF is a treasure.

Other great seasons were turned in by Ensemble Theatre (The Island, Lungs), Dobama Theatre (The Other Place, Little Women), and Beck Center (Once On This Island, Doubt: A Parable).

Best One-Play Season: Cesear's Forum
Well okay, no other theater offers only one play in a season, but that just means the pressure is ratcheted up even higher. And with The Fugitive's Lesson, director Greg Cesear shuffled together two comic absurdist European plays (The Lesson by Eugene Ionesco and The Fugitive by Ugo Betti), resulting in a hilarious, surprising and oddly touching production.

Best Risk-Taking Season: Convergence-Continuum Theater
They had plays about: A comical journey to Buchenwald, a magic crystal doorknob, a trio who cover a man with meat and honey so a bear will eat him, an underground world created by environmental disaster, and an X-rated fairytale gone wrong. Some of it didn't work, but enough of it did to put Con-Con on the must-see list.

Risks of a different sort were taken by Cleveland Public Theatre as it continues to provide theatrical opportunities and outlets for marginalized communities while gearing up for a more robust theater schedule in 2024. CPT is the theater many cities wish they had, and we have it! (Subscribed to any theaters yet? If not, knock back that leftover eggnog and get busy.)

In a similar way, the Cleveland Play House and Karamu spent much of last year recovering and reorganizing after the pandemic, with the former hosting a couple touring shows. But they joined forces for a revived production of the classic Langston Hughes inspired Black Nativity.

Best Visceral Stage Experience: Great Lakes Theater
Their production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, as directed by Victoria Bussert, dazzled from start to finish. Excellent ensemble performances along with spotlighted turns by Alex Syiek, Jessie Kirtley and Jodi Dominick made this a spine-tingling, melodious and witty excursion.

Best Love Match: Blank Canvas Theatre
Who else but Rocky and Adrian in the musical version of Rocky? Director Patrick Ciamacco cast Michael Snider and Carolyn Demanelis in those roles and they lit up the stage without forcing any moments, allowing the audience to feel their knockout chemistry along with them.

Best Performers
In addition to those mentioned above, let's raise a glass to:
Scott Esposito in Fun Home at Cain Park
Theo Allyn, Mariah Burks, Natalie Green and Amaya Kiyomi as the Little Women at Dobama
Rachel Lee Kolis in True West at None Too Fragile
Nnamdi Okpala and Robert Williams in The Island at Ensemble
Derdriu Ring in Faith Healer at None Too Fragile
...and so many more, all of which you would have seen if you'd bought some damn subscriptions!

Best of Everything
That's what we wish to all the directors, designers, stage managers, crews, support staffs and audience members who make the magic happen in our local theaters. Love and respect!

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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