Acting authorities: The top 10 performances of 2011

The best of local stages, from a mad Marquis to a wounded wife.

It's torturously hard to rank actors' best work — there's really no definitive way to compare, say, a splendid Eleanor of Aquitaine with a superlative Sancho Panza. Still, it's year's end and time for the inevitable Top Ten. Here, then, is my roster.

Giles Davies (A Midsummer Night's Dream, freeFall Theatre). Davies was wonderful not only as Puck in Shakespeare’s magical comedy, but also as the Marquis de Sade in Jobsite’s Quills and a South American doctor in A Simple Theatre’s Death and the Maiden. Nevertheless, it's Davies' Puck which was most memorable: no ethereal sprite, but a savage, dangerous demi-beast who just might feast on your heart. A performance to make you change your mind about the character — and the play.

Fanni Green (Yellowman, Jobsite Theater). Playing a dark-skinned African-American woman in a culture that treated lighter-skin blacks more respectfully, Fanni Green was stunning in Dael Orlandersmith's rawly honest drama. Green showed us how a girl becomes a woman, a country mouse becomes a city mouse, and a self-hating Southerner becomes a self-confident Northerner. And she did it so authentically, it hurt to watch.

Paul Potenza (The Odd Couple, Jobsite Theater). Potenza's Felix Unger wasn't just a neatness freak: he was an urban disaster area for whom desperation and anguish were as natural as the morning sunrise. This was a performance that provided depth and dimension and a lot more hilarity than even Neil Simon could have reasonably expected.

Julie Rowe (August: Osage County, American Stage). Rowe played Barbara, the most sensible member of the massively dysfunctional Weston family, but one whose presence of mind couldn't protect her from an unfaithful husband and a malevolent mother. This luminous actress gave us a Barbara who was imperious, imperiled, assertive, wounded and her poor family’s last best hope. Smashing!

Jim Wicker (Yellowman, Jobsite Theater). It was daring of Jobsite to cast a white man as "high yellow" Eugene, a light-skinned African American in love with darker-skinned Alma. But the gambit paid off: Wicker gave the best performance of his career as a young man trying desperately not to fall victim to the prejudices of his society. Wicker's carefully calibrated performance was heartbreaking — and unforgettable.

Dahlia Legault (Disco Pigs, Silver Meteor Gallery). Enda Walsh's dynamo of a play was about two 17-year-old friends, Pig, played winningly by Nic Carter, and Runt, portrayed by the amazingly talented Legault. Legault's Runt was shameless, fervent, super-assertive, and deliriously in love with her best buddy and partner in crime. But there was more in Legault's Runt: a deeply concealed lyricism which Pig could never tap, and which would surely lead her away from him at last.

Wyn Wilson (Grey Gardens, freeFall Theatre). Wilson played two roles in this marvelous musical about the once-wealthy Beale family and their fall into squalor. First she was Big Edith, who maliciously ruined her daughter Edie’s chance to be married to the eldest Kennedy brother. Then she was the grown-up Little Edie, an eccentric optimist who repeatedly failed to notice that her life was an utter wreck. In every case, Wyn was a wonder.

Glen Gower (Man of La Mancha, freeFall Theatre). As Sancho Panza, Gower was a deeply generous soul, fully devoted to Don Quixote, radiant with love for his broken would-be hero. Gower's character was no mere sidekick: he was the parent and child of his shattered master, a doting companion whose sympathy couldn’t be curbed by anything so weak as reality.

Caroline Jett (The Lion in Winter, Gorilla Theatre). There's every good reason for Eleanor of Aquitaine to be in despair in James Goldman's play: after all, she's been let out of prison only briefly by her husband, Henry II of England. But as played by the delightful Jett, Eleanor was coy, devious, funny and indomitable, throwing around the power she didn’t have and gaining Henry's — and our — respect.

Christine Decker (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, American Stage). Decker played Edward Albee's Martha as a woman who respected power but knew only wimps, who loved her husband so much she wanted to hurt him, and who utilized sexuality as just one more weapon in a Darwinian free-for-all. Terrific acting in a truly great play.

See you next year. And may all your dramas be romantic comedies.

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