Because everybody loves a good year-end “best of” list, Backstage set out to discover what performances some of your favorite theater experts enjoyed the most in 2011. The only rule, naturally, was that no one was allowed to select a performer from his or her own theater.
Alan Paul, associate director, Shakespeare Theatre Company
“Jenny Jules gave a performance of uncompromising bravery in “Ruined” [as Mama Nadi at Arena Stage]. Months later, I still remember the intensity, depth, humor and unexpectedness of her performance, and how it kept me on the edge of my seat. I got swept away on the tidal wave of her performance and left the theater knowing I had seen something I would never forget.”
Jeffrey Herrmann, managing director, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
“I was really struck by the performance of ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the Kennedy Center with Cate Blanchett. [She] was phenomenal, [as was] Hugo Weaving, who played Astrov. I thought he was really pretty extraordinary and showed a lot of humor, which was surprising in the show. He was outstanding.
“Also, Tracy Letts, in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ at Arena Stage, gave a great performance. He’s also a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Is there anything he’s bad at? The [whole cast] really attacked the roles and brought real intelligence, humor and nuance to the parts.
“Lauren Weedman’s performance in ‘Bust’ at Studio Theatre really was transformational and just effortlessly funny. So truthful and brave. You have to go there, and she really did.”
Andrés Holder, production manager, GALA Hispanic Theatre
“My favorite artist in a D.C. show was Anna Deavere Smith in ‘Let Me Down Easy’ at Arena Stage. She very carefully embodied a wide variety of people in a show that was so current and relevant. I feel like her writing and acting touched her audiences on both the ideological and emotional levels.”
Paul R. Tetreault, director, Ford’s Theatre
“Edward Gero gave a stunning performance as Salieri in ‘Amadeus’ at Round House. He portrayed a villain of Shakespearean magnitude but also made him profoundly human. It’s always thrilling watching one of Washington’s finest actors onstage.”
Molly Smith, artistic director, Arena Stage
“Some of my favorite performances from [this] last year came from Michael Russotto (Will in ‘A Bright New Boise’ at Woolly Mammoth) and Erica Sullivan (Vanda in ‘Venus in Fur’ at Studio Theatre). Michael gave a nuanced and deep performance. This was a remarkable portrayal of a man with a boatload of secrets to keep. Erica’s performance was sexy, shrewd and powerful; hers was a performance that drove the play to excellence.”
Janet Griffin, artistic producer, Folger Shakespeare Theatre
“One of the most remarkable performances in 2011 for me was Ben Steinfeld’s in Fiasco Theater’s imaginative ‘Cymbeline,’ staged and brought back and just extended again in New York. Working in close ensemble with the rest of the six-person cast, Ben was able to step effortlessly in to his various roles — from the playful rube who turns out to be a prince to the creepy Iacimo. Most importantly, Ben told the story truthfully, with a naturalness to the language and with amazing singing and guitar playing to boot. He made sure Shakespeare was completely engaging for everyone.”
Serge Seiden, director, Studio Theatre
“Hayley McElhinney as Sonya in Sydney Theatre Company’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ hosted by the Kennedy Center. Ms. McElhinney’s physical and vocal characterization was so beautifully realized — she was such a worker. And her love for Astrov broke my heart — and at the same time, the comedy of missed connections was a delight. I think her performance perfectly captured the Chekhovian style.
An addition, “Tracy Letts as George in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.’ Mr. Letts’s George was mind-blowing and inspirational. So tortured, so much will to survive, and then such redeeming love for Martha at the end of the play. His voice and his body were used with alternating nuance and primal power.”