Breaking Legs

Local stage luminaries you won't want to miss

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click to enlarge CAN'T LOOK AWAY: Magali Naas uses her exotic looks and expressive face to her advantage. - Courtesy Jobsite Theater
Courtesy Jobsite Theater
CAN'T LOOK AWAY: Magali Naas uses her exotic looks and expressive face to her advantage.

Tampa Bay certainly has its elite actors — Steven Clark Pachosa, Julie Rowe and Brian Shea, just to name a few — but there are other thespians, not so well-known, who show the potential to be real luminaries.

Now that the theater year 2006-2007 is coming to an end, I want to bring some of these standouts to the attention of local theater-lovers. Every one of them strikes me as special — even extraordinary — but none of them is yet a local celebrity. I've listed them alphabetically, not by rank.

Steve Garland. If anyone noted here has made a start at broader local renown, it's the very busy Garland. He had a lead part in Jobsite Theater's The Pillowman and significant roles in Gorilla Theatre's Bug, [email protected]'s Grace and Jobsite's Woman in Mind. What's notable about Garland — aside from his generally superb acting — is his Everyman quality. He's not remarkably ethnic or handsome or homely or even American, and he's as convincing as a heavy as he is playing a hero. Garland's persona is so flexible, there's just about no end to his possibilities.

Daniel Harris. I've only seen Harris at Gypsy Productions, but he definitely left an impression. In Twilight of the Golds, he played a gay man shocked at his sister's willingness to abort her unborn child because a genetic screening had shown he would be gay. Instead of making this character lugubrious, Harris played him as a man full of joie de vivre, in love with life and opera, but capable of real indignation where his family's homophobia was concerned. In Two Spoons, he was Steve, a fast-thinking wisecracker who was struggling with the idea that it just might be possible for a marriage to include the occasional third party. In both parts, Harris owned the stage.

Matt Lunsford. If ever an actor looked like a leading man, it's Lunsford. Tall and classically handsome, he has the charisma you'd more likely find in Hollywood than on the Hillsborough. But in two plays at Jobsite, he abundantly demonstrated that he's willing to play secondary parts persuasively. In The Pillowman, he was Tupolski, an investigating cop who radiated dominance while at the same time suggesting that he might preserve a wisp of conscience. Then in Woman in Mind, he was the affectionate, supportive brother in the imagination of a woman who had every reason to deny her real, wretched family.

Caitlin McDonald. McDonald has been turning in terrific performances at least since 2002, when she was perfect as young Mary Warren in The Crucible. But now she's coming into maturity, and in Orson's Shadow at Gorilla Theatre, she showed she's capable of playing a complex adult woman. McDonald was Joan Plowright, Laurence Oliver's lover just as the romance between Olivier and Vivien Leigh was reaching its messy end. While Emilia Sargent as Leigh gave way to mania and lust, McDonald's Plowright was steadfast, calm and unflappable. McDonald was also superb in Woman in Mind, as the bright, cheerful dream-daughter out of everyone's model family.

Magali Naas. She is French-born and speaks with an accent, which may scare off some directors. But Naas possesses a wonderful stage presence, charming and tender, and she's brightened up a few shows that would have been intolerable without her. In Stageworks' The Miser, she was Mariane, beloved by both a son and his father, and in Hat Trick's Scapin, she played the penniless Hyacinth, another lovely love object. When a role demands a young woman who's beautiful and exotic, and as expressive in her silences as she is in her dialogue, Naas alone, among local actors, seems right for the part.

Michael Titone. As the title character in the now-defunct Acorn Theatre's A Servant of Two Masters, Titone sped through the comic role with such brio and verve that he made everyone else seem to act in slow motion. Then last season, he played Chicklet, a beach bunny with multiple personality disorder in Psycho Beach Party. Once again he was splendid — this time by making it clear that he knew that we knew that he knew that he was only acting. There aren't many actors who can manage the irony that the truly campy shows deserve, but Titone can and has.

Naomi R. Welsh. One of the best shows of last season was Gypsy Productions' Independence, and one of the main reasons it was so successful was Welsh's performance as Sherry. In a play about three sisters, Welsh was the firecracker, indomitable, ready to leave home and her dreadful mother as soon as humanly possible, and determined to sleep with every boy she met in the meantime. What was so special about Welsh's performance was how she let us know that beneath her fierce willfulness were naïveté and even a little panic.

Laurie Zimmerman. Every one of the actresses playing The Sisters Rosensweig was strong and complex, but Zimmerman had the task of being the alpha female, and she carried it off brilliantly. Her Sara Goode was just about perfect as a banker and Londoner in flight from her American Jewish roots, and when she laid down the law, the law stayed put. But she was also a loving sister, a patient mother and a trifle lonely. They say that there aren't many good roles for middle-aged women, but someone ought to find a few anyway, and hire the talented Zimmerman.

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