In his autobiographical tome On Acting, Sir Laurence Olivier stressed the importance of learning solid technical discipline. "Every time an actor goes on stage," wrote the great man, "he hopes the gods will be with him. Technique is for the times the gods don't show up." As far as Madison theatre was concerned, the gods seem to have been quite active in 2007, as evidenced by this cross-section of some of the finer performances that graced local stages.
Here are the top performances over the last year.
Jeff Still (Madison Repertory Theatre)
Steppenwolf Theater regular Still winningly played Vince Lombardi in Lombardi/The Only Thing. His performance was less an imitation of life and more a distillation of the spirit of the legendary Packers coach. Still evoked Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as he "bestrode the narrow world like a Colossus" in a superb performance that explored Lombardi's frailties as thoroughly as his strengths.
Ben Werling (Madison Repertory Theatre)
As one of several actors who played dual roles in Lombardi/The Only Thing, Werling almost stole the show with his witty portrayal of Inigo Lopez, also known as St. Ignatius. His sly delivery enticed and delighted the audience without ever playing for the obvious laughs. It was a beautifully nuanced portrayal in a play that was not always as subtle as its actors.
Callie Johnson (Mercury Players Theatre)
Reefer Madness, the Musical was a joyous romp of a production that was propelled by the energy of a fine ensemble cast. But as Mae, the floozy with a heart of tin, Johnson was one of the outstanding individuals. Craftily combining sultriness with silliness, she comically slithered her way through the show in a role that would have made Tallulah Bankhead lick her lips.
Daniel Torres-Rangel (Broom Street Theater)
Although he was saddled with a clunker of a script, Torres-Rangel delivered a precise and intense performance in Funnel, a would-be mystery-thriller. Even as an unsympathetic attorney suspected of a brutal crime Torres-Rangel managed to salvage some dignity for his character in an emotionally charged performance. It would be good to see him in a play that offers him more complexity.
Steve Wojtas (University Theatre)
Proving the old adage that there are no small roles, only small actors, Wojtas caused uproar every time he bounded onstage as a libidinous coachman in Tom Stoppard's On the Razzle. Wojtas was a perfect example of how an actor must employ every tool at his disposal to create a three-dimensional character, even when that character is a cameo.
Chaz Ingraham, David Gerard Miller, Andrew Valdez-Cody (Madison Theatre Guild)
This is cheating a little, but there is no way to separate the individual members of The Complete History of America (abridged). Like Cerberus, the three-headed hound that guards the gates of Hades, the actors combined to howl, growl and whine their way through two hundred years of American history and hysteria. Their passionate interplay carried them on a wave of ingenuity, especially during a memorable vaudeville routine performed by Lewis and Clark, fresh from their tour of the West.