Garland awards go to artists and shows that receive three votes from Back Stage West critics. But what about artists who work so much and so well in L.A. theatre that they essentially compete with themselves? Several artists received nods from critics for three or more separate stage efforts in 2001, and in almost all these cases they didn't get enough votes for any single credit to receive a Garland for it.
This year these multi-talented artists will be recognized with special awards we've called, in all sincerity, Local Heroes.
Scenic designer Jason Adams
The lone scenic designer among our Local Heroes, Adams is a member of the Evidence Room artistic leadership who distinguished himself this year with shows at his home base (Don Carlos and Delirium Palace), as well as a stint with Taper, Too (Jessica Goldberg's Good Thing). If there's one thing to learn from Adams' excellent designs this time around, it's the power of simplicity. From his stark white jail cell/operating room in Delirium Palace to his cubic, open-air living spaces in Good Thing, Adams worked primarily with the clean line and the almost-blank canvas in 2001. Even in the demanding, multi-location world of Don Carlos' Spanish nobility, Adams (who co-designed with his wife, Alicia Hoge) demonstrated with his sliding backstage wall—which gave the illusion of a shrinking/expanding room—that the simplest answer is often the best.
Costume designer Ann Closs-Farley
It would be tempting to describe Closs-Farley as "long-suffering" if she didn't seem to love her largely thankless job so much. "Miracle worker" might be more appropriate. At her home, the Actors' Gang, Closs-Farley pulled off two epic period pieces in 2001—Chekhov's The Seagull and Ariane Mnouchkine's adaptation of Klaus Mann's Mephisto. These two productions ran in repertory, featured almost every member of the Gang, and required a mix of historically accurate and period-suggestive costumes, which Closs-Farley somehow pulled together and pulled off seamlessly (as it were) with a hint of her uniquely adventurous style.
Most amazing is that these weren't even representative of Closs-Farley's finest work this year: her fantastic and metaphoric creations for Evidence Room's production of the equally sprawling Don Carlos. Her idea for dressing a captive queen? White silk ribbons, extending from her waist, that turned into thin, elegant handcuffs at the wrists. Sheer genius.
Director Bart DeLorenzo
Because of his connoisseur taste in play selection for the Evidence Room and his currently undisputed title as L.A.'s "last gentleman producer" (so dubbed by director David Schweizer), it's sometimes easy to forget that DeLorenzo is also one helluva director. He reminded us with no fewer than three excellent—and completely dissimilar—shows this year: Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos, Charles Mee's The Imperialists at the Club Cave Canem, and the world premiere of Gordon Dahlquist's Delirium Palace. What a neglected classic about friendship and power, a ridiculous postmodern cabaret, and a chilling meditation on human nature have in common is simply this: DeLorenzo's unique ability to move gracefully between the intimate and the epic. With a painter's eye, DeLorenzo choreographs his group scenes with a modern dance sensibility but is just as comfortable concentrating on intense, one-on-one exchanges. In other words, he understands the various languages of the theatre as only great directors do.
Lighting designer J. Kent Inasy
It seems that the term Local Hero was designed for freelancer Inasy, who in 2001 was nominated for four shows at four different theatres: Warren Leight's Side Man at Pasadena Playhouse, Shakespeare's As You Like It at Actor's Co-op, Chekhov's Three Sisters at Interact Theatre Company, and John Shaner's After Crystal Night at Odyssey Theatre. If that wasn't enough, he also won a separate Garland for his work at another theatre: the Matrix, for its production of Pinter's The Birthday Party.
Inasy is clearly L.A.'s journeyman designer—able to adapt his talents to any space, any genre, any budget. Whether "evoking the bright glimmer of swinging days now long gone" in Side Man or changing "focus and mood along with the text, going from stylized spotlit monologues to red, expressionist washes" in the dreary seaside boardinghouse of The Birthday Party, Inasy is the man—whatever the job.
Director Jessica Kubzansky
Kubzansky is among the few true freelance theatre directors based in Los Angeles, and increasingly she's getting paying work out of town. We begrudge her no outside projects, but it would be a great loss to our local theatre scene if she traveled out of town too often. She has consistently mounted some of the most intelligently imagined, visceral but thoughtful productions in L.A. for the past decade, at theatres ranging from the Colony to Pacific Resident Theatre to the Odyssey. Last year alone she directed two full-length productions, Anatol and A Servant to Two Masters, and a short L.A. run of Moscow (a Garland winner in 1998), prior to its Edinburgh Festival Fringe appearance. For Buffalo Nights, she made Anatol, Schnitzler's episodic examination of bachelor sex and longing, resonate and sting with wit and bracing clarity; for International City Theatre, she turned a brilliant cast loose in the playground of A Servant to Two Masters, all the while keeping them on point with the frothy central story. Kubzansky's gifts are many-layered: With her loving but unflinching honesty about the vagaries of human behavior, she really cuts to the heart and brain of a play. She does this by casting great, versatile actors and challenging them, and by creating fully theatrical worlds, a step beyond or beneath mere naturalism. She marries design and impulse, the intellectual and the sensual, like few others stage directors we've seen. (Come to think of it, we'd love to see her take on a Stoppard play.) Next up is Lanford Wilson's Burn This at the Odyssey. We'll be there.
Costume designer Shon LeBlanc
The dapper and reserved LeBlanc is among the go-to costumers for productions at venues as far-ranging as the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities, Actor's Co-op in Hollywood, the Interact Theatre in North Hollywood, and the Colony Studio Theatre. He's also known to turn up in unexpected places, such as at the Greenway Court Theatre for the Greenway Arts Alliance production of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Wherever theatregoers are lucky to see his meticulous work (one is tempted to call it seamless but for the suggestion of a pun), the LeBlanc name on a program is one mark of quality they can trust. And not just generic quality: LeBlanc's designs expertly reflect character, class, period, and directorial concept with an economy that neither rules out sumptuousness when appropriate nor becomes distracted by frills.
As the owner of Valentino's Costumes in Van Nuys, LeBlanc has a large collection of costumes. But, as he said in a recent conversation, he bristles at the notion that he's just a costume rental facility—or, worse yet, that when companies hire him for a specific costume design that his whole warehouse is theirs for the taking. LeBlanc is among that small, select group of paid professionals in Los Angeles theatre who are more than worth the money.
Music director Peter Matz
Imagine a Reprise! Broadway's Best production without musical director Matz, and you'll know what a New York pizza without the mozzarella would taste like. The substance, the texture, the flavor would all be gone. Cited by our critics for his work on three diverse musicals (Hair, The Most Happy Fella, and 1776), Matz has been with Marcia Seligson's ambitious musical revival producer since its inception. His endless credits (from Carol Burnett's legendary TV series to Broadway's Grand Hotel) qualify him as the ideal artist to lavish TLC on Reprise's ongoing parade of classic show scores. This recognition by our critics makes me a most happy fella indeed.
Lighting designer Rand Ryan
The work of lighting designers can often go unnoticed. For example, to the unskilled eye it would not be immediately apparent that the growing menace in Evidence Room's production of Delirium Palace was due as much to the carefully calibrated performances as it was to Ryan's gradual transformation of the pure white room to an oppressively green-tinted one. Subtle? Yes. But that's what makes Ryan's work unique—and easily missed.
Another member of the Evidence Room mafia, Ryan mixed in work at home in 2001 (Delirium Palace and Don Carlos) with jobs at Padua Playwrights (16 Routines) and Taper, Too (Good Thing). Lighting design is typically a craft as difficult to discern as it is to amass a critical consensus about. But Ryan has proven that it's not always flash and cheap tricks that catch the critic's eye. Subtlety and smarts make the cut as well.
Playwright Murray Mednick
Mednick's work could safely be said to have "that Padua quality," that tendency to celebrate language over plot or device, combining absurdist humor and stylized exchanges. Mednick's fondness for the abstruse makes his work challenging in form and content—certainly not the kind of theatre that begs to become a sitcom pilot.
As the founder of Padua Hills Playwrights Festival/ Workshop—which in its heyday (1978-1995) nurtured such visionaries as Sam Shepard, John Steppling, Maria Irene Fornes, David Henry Hwang, and John O'Keefe—Mednick chose to resurrect the festival's brand name last April. Led by artistic director Guy Zimmerman, Padua Playwrights Productions staged an inaugural season of three fresh Mednick plays at 2100 Square Feet Theatre in L.A.: 16 Routines, about a home for distressed vaudevillians, Joe and Betty, about a poor Jewish couple living in the Catskills in 1951, and Mrs. Feuerstein, about a schoolteacher obsessed with the Holocaust. What distinguishes these plays, in addition to underlying Jewish themes, is a kind of tight, difficult, musical writing that can sustain heavy themes while sparkling with snappy, offbeat humor. A Mednick play is a play that doesn't just get you thinking—it fractures your thinking.
Sound designer John Zalewski
In a cluttered white house on a quiet block in Long Beach, sound designer John Zalewski sits among rickety musical instruments, stacks of reading material, half-finished paintings, and other accoutrements of a life filled with art and curiosity, and he collects and shapes weird sounds. It's not a knock to say you can recognize a Zalewski sound design almost immediately: There is the inventiveness and arcana, the obscure music loops, the odd effects, but above all there is the clarity and force of his soundscapes. They sound like sculpted noise, or more precisely, like noise being sculpted—no one does booming and grating like Zalewski. Last year he didn't just do his usual brilliant pre-recorded work on such Evidence Room shows as Don Carlos and Delirium Palace, and on Bottom's Dream's 3 Voices; in a welcome diversion, he appeared onstage as Luigi, a "gondolier," playing live sound effects along with the lazzi in International City Theatre's A Servant to Two Masters. Live or on tape, Zalewski makes us sit up and listen.