Still Not The Carymores

By Cary M. Mazer

Well, the Barrymore committee has spoken with its second annual awards. But just in case I haven't had enough of an outlet for my opinions, here are the artists and productions I believe deserve special recognition for the '95-'96 season. And, for the second year in a row, I plead with you, and with my editor: PLEASE don't call them the "Carymores."

I'm going to have to wait a year before I can sing the praises of almost every actor in the current season's Death of Salesman, now in the final weeks of its extended run at the Arden. But that production is an indicator of the most noticeable advance of the previous season: the triumph of the Philadelphia ensemble. I'm not talking about Love! Valour! Compassion!, Terrence McNally's absolutely lovely play, which received a perfectly lovely, Barrymore-Award-studded production under the direction of Charles Karchmer at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. Several of the performances were just dandy; but no one can convince me that that bunch of Hollywood-and-Nyawk actors were a real ensemble, nor did the actors ever convince me that the characters they were playing were really lifelong friends.

No: the show-stopper ensemble was in Abigail Adams' production of Charlotte Keatley's My Mother Said I Never Should. It isn't a masterwork, like L!V!C!; but Ceal Phelan, Marcia Saunders, Kathryn Peterson and Susan McKey were really doing their work together, which is the best and toughest way to do it.

And let's not slight the other impressive ensembles: in Escape from Happinessat the Wilma, and in InterAct's Lonely Planet(yes, a two-character play can be an ensemble, if the actors are Frank X and David Warner, and the director is Seth Rozin).

Among individual performances last season, the best, in my never-humble opinion, were:

Janis Dardaris in Quartetat the Wilma. It wasn't just the kinkiness or the nudity that blew me away, it was Dardaris' ability to shift gears, to play-act-within-role-playing-within-manipulation, which enabled her, when she played Merteuil-playing-Valmont, to outplay the un-outplayable Pearce Bunting when he played Valmont himself. Unbelievable.

Greg Wood as Baron Tusenbach in The Three Sisters, Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays. Completely credible and absolutely touching.

Lisbeth Bartlett as the corpse-robbing jewelry thief in Three Viewings, Philadelphia Theatre Company. Ironically, she was the one actor in this three-actor/ three-monologue piece who didn't get a Barrymore nomination. Am I prejudiced against New York actors and in favor of Philadelphia-based ones? You bet I am! And Bartlett's performance only proves my point.

Best New Play: Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller's Mine Aloneat the Independent Eye. I found it unrelenting and oppressive when I saw it, but, boy, has it stuck with me!

Best Director: Blanka Zizka for Quartet. She deserves another award just for figuring it out.

Best Costume Design: Marla Jurglanis for Tartuffe at People's Light. Perfect (as always) right down to the socks.

Best Unclassifiable Artist: William Yalowitz for the movement work in Grimm Tales at People's Light. The opening image from the "Hansel and Gretel" section, with the family tossing and turning in their sleep from hunger, was unforgettable.