9 great performances

Actors who made an indelible impression in 2013.

I won’t try to rank these nine best performances of 2013. They were all first-rate, not to be compared with each other but only savored for themselves. So now, in no particular order, let’s remember:

Chris Crawford, My Name is Asher Lev As a young painter torn between his religious and artistic instincts, Crawford was ingenuous, driven, stubborn, and more than a little baffled as to why he felt compelled to paint everything he saw. This was a vision of artistic talent as a glorious burden, exigent and unfathomable. And it rang resonantly true.

Katherine Michelle Tanner, The Amish Project Tanner took on seven roles in this drama about a horrific mass shooting in an Amish village. Not only did she play two victimized children, but she also impersonated the murderer and his widow, a scholar, a pregnant Hispanic girl, and an angry middle-aged woman. Most amazing: how she managed, amidst all the tragedy, to communicate a message of love strong as death.

Brian Shea, Art In a performance constructed of 1,000 microscopic details, Shea brought us hyper-neurotic schnook Yvan, nearly incapable of risking other people’s displeasure, and torn between his battling friends Marc and Serge. If glass on the point of shattering could take human form, this is how it would look and sound.

Roxanne Fay, Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare’s Beatrice should always be played thus: self-assured, quick-witted, almost leonine in her ability to leap verbally from barb to barb. Fay inhabited this part as if she were born for it; and she was no less convincing when antipathy turned to ardor. This one’s a keeper, Benedick.

Tanesha Gary, The Piano Lesson As Berniece in August Wilson’s play, Gary was a woman still grieving for her late husband, but able nonetheless to surprise herself with impulsive affections. Why would Berniece reject one sincere, likely suitor and then fall, at least briefly, for a less trustworthy stranger? Watching the talented Gary, we were able to understand this — and everything else — about her complex, intelligent character.

Dennis Duggan, Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck’s Lenny is mentally challenged, a big galumph of a guy who loves small animals but has the bad habit of crushing them, and is equally dangerous around women who wear soft clothes and treat him gently. This innocent but lethal simpleton was played to perfection by Duggan, who seemed not at all to respect the fiction/reality divide. Magical acting, uncanny and unforgettable.

Ned Averill-Snell, A Thousand Clowns 2013 was a good year for Averill-Snell, who shone in Much Ado About Nothing, I Do! I Do!, and Herb Gardner’s Clowns. In the latter, he was the self-dramatizing Murray Burns, a hero to his 12-year-old niece and a mind-boggling problem to everyone else. Averill-Snell’s Murray was charming and manic and self-tortured and fun, more delightful even than the play in which he appeared.

Nicole Jeannine Smith, 4.48 Psychosis British author Sarah Kane killed herself shortly after writing this harrowing, cryptic play, and thanks to Smith, Bay area audiences had a rare chance to see it. Whether confessing her mental illness, facing another psychiatrist, popping psychotropic drugs, or anguishing about a love affair, Smith’s character was dreadfully honest, anguished, and needy. This was theater at the edge, and Smith’s performance was brilliant.

David M. Jenkins, The Lonesome West Jenkins is best known as Jobsite Theater’s artistic director, but he’s also a fine actor whose specialty is comedy. In Martin McDonagh’s play he was Coleman, a parricidal maniac who was mean-spirited and duplicitous and full of ill will toward just about everyone. Is misbehavior funny? In Jenkins’ capable hands, the answer was a distinct “yes.”

And that’s it for 2013. Have a Happy New Year. And may all your dramas be romantic comedies.

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