• 2017 True West Award: Sammie Joe Kinnett

    by John Moore | Dec 10, 2017
    True West Award Sammie Joe Kinnett
    Photo at right by Zachary Andrews.

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 10: Sammie Joe Kinnett

    Arvada Center
    Colorado Springs TheatreWorks
    Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Sammie Joe Kinnett is one of the hundreds who started 2017 adrift in grief over the death of Murray Ross.

    Ross founded TheatreWorks as part of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in 1975 and for the next 42 years, he built it into a fertile incubator of young hearts and minds. Some of them were not even his students. Kinnett, for one, was a teenage community-college dropout who, through Ross, found a mentor — and a home — on a campus he didn’t even attend.

    "Ross was a divining rod of talent," said frequent Colorado Springs Director Geoffrey Kent. When Ross met Kinnett, he didn’t see a dropout. He saw his next Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He saw his future co-writer and the co-star of an original piece they developed together called I Am Nikola Tesla.

    sammie joe-15-m242x323“Murray was able to see when there was something special in someone,” said Kinnett, "and he was able to bring it out in them just by sheer belief.” Ross certainly brought it out in Kinnett, who developed into one of the most intelligent and consistently working comic actors in theatres across Colorado Springs.

    And so when Ross died in January, Kinnett confronted his own profound sadness and honored his mentor by going out and making people laugh. First in a revelatory take on the title character in the warhorse comedy The Foreigner at the Arvada Center. Then by putting a more humane spin on The SantaLand Diaries, David Sedaris’ comic monologue about working as a Macy’s elf (playing through Dec. 23). Both plays were directed by Kent, who calls Kinnett “the ‘fire and forget’ missile of comedians.”

    When he says that, he’s invoking the military term for a projectile that never fails to hit its target. “Once launched in any given direction,” Kent elaborated, “Sammie rockets forward with 110 percent commitment.”  

    Audiences saw a whole different side of Kinnett's comic skills when he played Sancho to Stephen Day's Henry Award-winning Cervantes in Man of La Mancha for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. Reviewer Bill Wheeler wrote the casting of Kinnett as Sancho was brilliant, and that "he’s the finest comedic actor working in Colorado Springs."

    True West Awards Sammie Joe Kinnett The Foreigner Arvada CenterThe Foreigner
    has been done and doner since playwright Larry Shue (M*A*S*H) debuted it in 1983. But everything about the tired old comedy felt fresh at the Arvada Center — even, sadly, its intentionally racist overtones that felt uncomfortably contemporary in the wake of the Charlottesville riots. Kinnett played a pathologically shy young Brit who pretends not to speak English to avoid interacting with the rubes visiting a fishing lodge in rural Georgia.

    The reason it felt so fresh, said Drew Martorella, Executive Director of UCCS Presents, is because everything seems to when filtered through Kinnett’s playful lens.

    “Sammie Joe has an innocence about him that allows you to see the world through his eyes — and that is a great vehicle to allow comedy to happen,” Martorella said.

    (Pictured at right: Sammie Joe Kinnett, center, with Jessica Robblee, left, Lance Rasmussen (back) and Edith Weiss in the Arvada Center's 'The Foreigner.' M. Gale Photography.)

    'Murray Ross put beauty and goodness out into this world'

    Kinnett is a great physical comedian who uses his body as a readily available tool just as a painter uses a paintbrush or a mechanic uses a tire iron — and that was on confident display in The Foreigner. This was not the first time on a Denver stage for Kinnett, who turned two memorable summer seasons at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder. But for many, The Foreigner was an introduction worthy of a classic comedy double-take. Take a gander at what the impressed critics had to say:

    • Joanne Ostrow, The Denver Post: “The Foreigner is a particular triumph for Sammie Joe Kinnett, who, through a mix of lithe physical antics, deft dialect work and spot-on timing, brings Charlie to life.”
    • Juliet Wittman, Westword: “Sammie Joe Kinnett sports a goofy, all-stops-out physicality and a gutsy, crazed creativity that lets him try anything and go anywhere for a laugh — the result being gales of laughter from the audience.”

    Ross would have loved seeing Kinnett in this exquisitely executed role, Kent said. Here was this now fully grown-up actor putting on a confident comedy clinic that was fully gained through hard knocks and hard experience. And yet it was infused with a joyful spirit of reminiscent of Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful). Kinnett's humanity even bleeds through his current take on Sedaris’ famously cynical SantaLand elf in Colorado Springs.

    "TheatreWorks made a bold choice," writes the (unnamed) critic for the website Springs on Stage:  "They gave Crumpet a soul.

    "Kinnett brings a wild energy and warmth to the show,” the reviewer goes on to say. “This Crumpet wants to care — he’s just waiting for something that’s worth caring about. It’s a touching blend of deviance and heart.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    And as most any comedian will tell you, successful comedy is often born through life’s rockiest transitions. Over their decade together, Ross watched Kinnett grow up, fall in love, get married, become a father — and then a single father.

    Ross did live to see that his former community-college dropout is now enrolled at UCCS studying for a degree in Performing Arts and Psychology. It seems the more complicated Kinnett’s life has become, the better he’s become as an actor who floats easily from screwball farce to Shakespeare (sometimes at the same time).

    Man-of-La-Mancha_3“We would rehearse for The SantaLand Diaries from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Colorado Springs, and then Sammie would drive to Arvada to perform in The Foreigner that night — all as a full-time student and single dad,” Kent said. “I don’t know how he did it.”

    Kent might not know how Kinnett did it, but he is certain Ross has had everything to do with Kinnett’s now more widely recognized statewide success.

    “Sammie Joe is now equipped with the deep pathos to pair with that classic spit take,” Kent said. “He’s the complete package.”

    (Pictured at right: Sammie Joe Kinnett as Sancho in 'Man of La Mancha' for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. Photo by Jeff Kearney.)  

    Martorella believes Kinnett “may be the most generous, most humorous, most accommodating performer we have ever turned out here in Colorado Springs,” he said. “We’re proud that we still have him, and we’re glad he’s still making people laugh.”

    Whatever "that thing" Kinnett has may be indefinable. Martorella knows only one simple thing:

    “Sammie Joe just makes me smile.”

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    Sammie Joe Kinnett: 2017

    • The Hairy Ape, Colorado Springs TheatreWorks (Assistant Director)
    • The Foreigner, Arvada Center
    • The SantaLand Diaries, Colorado Springs TheatreWorks (Actor)

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'
    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

  • 2017 True West Award: Kenny Moten

    by John Moore | Dec 07, 2017
    2017 True West Award Kenny Moten. Photo by John Moore

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 7: Kenny Moten

    Motones vs. Jerseys
    Miscast 2017
    Aurora Fox Cabaret Series
    Owner, Narrative Creative Consulting

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    If you think being a performer is hard, try being a performer and the owner of your own entertainment and consulting company. Kenny Moten makes the transition from actor to producer to businessman and back again in same manner that often describes his rich singing voice: Smooth as silk.

    Moten is among the very few performers who also knows how to run a business.

    Kenny Moten“It’s rare because owning an entertainment business is brutal in a way that is very different from the way performing is brutal,” said Moten’s frequent creative partner — and employee — Jalyn Courtenay Webb. “When you’re the boss, you are not only responsible for yourself, but for the people you hire and the team you put together. But Kenny has just the right temperament for it. He does everything with integrity. He’s a solid human being.”  

    Moten is the creator and owner of Narrative Creative Consulting, which presents entertainment events and uses various art forms to help clients ranging from National Jewish Hospital to Snooze Eatery to the Denver Center shape their narratives, customer service, employee training and brand strategies.  

    Moten is also the co-creator, director, writer and a featured performer of a clever new musical form called Motones vs. Jerseys. In July, it was up for three Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards, including Outstanding Musical, for its nearly sold-out run at the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins.

    In September, Moten lent his support (and that smooth-as-silk singing voice) to the Denver Actors Fund by appearing in Miscast 2017 as one of the three Fionas singing I Know It’s Today from Shrek the Musical. In October, the Aurora Fox turned to Moten to launch its risky new monthly cabaret series with 12 O’clock Tales: An Evening of Songs and Stories. Both shows sold out, which Webb said is further indication of Moten’s popularity as a performer — and his business acumen. Both come from more than 20 years as a professional performer, Webb says.

    Kenny Moten Miscast 2017“Kenny’s name is synonymous with excellence, and people know that in our community and beyond,” she said. “He was not going to do his show in an empty house — and he certainly did not.”

    Moten caps a remarkable 2017 with a return next week to Motones vs. Jerseys as part of a unique new creative partnership with BDT Stage in Boulder. "MvJ," as the kids call it, is a feel-good, nostalgic evening featuring the music of Motown and The Four Seasons — along with their many ancestors and descendants — in a good-natured competition. After two teams of four performers each rock out a playlist spanning Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Bruno Mars and many more, the audience chooses a winning team using their cell phones to vote.

    (Pictured right: Kenny Moten with his 'Miscast 2017' co-stars, Margie Lamb, left, and Hope Grandon. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter,)

    It’s a concept Moten first developed with Chris Starkey, now of Imprint Group DMC. After several refinements, Moten unveiled a slick new version of the show last year at the Midtown Arts Center, where it received a standing ovation “every single night,” said Webb, who is both the show’s Music Director and nightly emcee. “And let me tell you, I’ve never seen that happen at any dinner theatre before in my life.”

    Motones vs. Jerseys opens on Dec. 10 and will play on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights through Jan. 23, playing in rep the rest of the week with BDT Stage’s holiday staging of Annie.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Moten, who is originally from Hagerstown, Md., graduated from Highlands Ranch High School and the University of Colorado Denver. He transitioned from Barnstormer to leading man with a remarkable 2005 performance in Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the late Country Dinner Playhouse opposite now Denver First Lady Mary Louise Lee. Westword’s Juliet Wittman called Moten not only “a wonderful singer with a voice full of poignancy and power,” but also “a charming and seductive performer who brings impressive precision and a smooth, lean elegance to the stage.”

    Other major credits include Swing at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and Altar Boyz at the Clocktower Cabaret, but it wasn’t long before Moten was off to New York. He re-settled in Fort Collins a few years ago and has since been on a roll that has not only furthered his personal and professional interests, but has gainfully employed dozens of local actors and crew members on his many public and corporate projects.

    “The thing I love about Kenny is that he’s so fun, but he’s also completely no-nonsense when it comes to the work,” said Webb. “He expects the highest quality and the highest level of performance possible from his performers, and we respect that. He knows what he wants — and he goes out and gets it."

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    Motones vs. Jerseys: At a glance

    • Dec. 10-Jan. 23
    • BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
    • Performances Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings. Dinner seating begins at 6:15, with the show to follow at 7:45
    • Featuring Brian Cronan, Will Hawkins, Brian Jackson and Jacob Villareal as The Jerseys, and Christian Mark Gibbs, Anthony McGlaun, Kenny Moten and Alejandro Roldan as The Motones.
    • Call 303-449-6000 or bdtstage.com


    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'

    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

    Video bonus: Motones vs. Jerseys at the 2017 Henry Awards

  • 2017 True West Award: Cory Sapienza

    by John Moore | Dec 03, 2017
    True West 2017 Cory Sapienza Miners Alley Hir

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 3: Cory Sapienza

    Hir
    Miners Alley Playhouse

    This time last year, we here at the True West Awards were acknowledging Buntport Theater for adapting transitioning novelist Miriam Suzanne’s Riding SideSaddle for the stage. Because for all its presumed inclusiveness, the theatre at large has made very little room in the storytelling canon for those whose chromosomes straddle that crumbling boundary between strictly male and female. There have been virtually no stories about people whose gender identities either vary over time, or have come to include a combination of identities.

    And so, despite the 2016 award, Buntport ensemble member Erin Rollman was quick to point out that telling one trans person’s story was just a step, no more. “And the next step includes getting more trans actors on-stage and fully participating in the storytelling,” she said.

    So it was a big deal when Miners Alley Playhouse took one decisive step in that direction in February by casting high-school sophomore Cory Sapienza to play Maxine, a character who is transitioning into Max, in Taylor Mac’s absurd and disturbed comedy Hir. It’s the grossly exaggerated story of a dysfunctional family scarred by war, patriarchy, sexual abuse, racism, PTSD, sadism, and drug abuse. ... And then there's Max, whose unprecedented storyline is just one piece of the larger family dynamic at play.

    Oldest son Isaac is a troubled Marine whose job in Afghanistan was collecting body parts to send back home. He returns to a Durang-worthy family that has turned into a twisted clown show – literally. Sapienza, who identifies as a transguy, plays Isaac’s trans-masculine younger brother who, thanks to pills he buys off the internet, is starting to sprout some impressive facial hair.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Safe to say: This is not the kind of play Miners Alley Playhouse audiences are used to seeing. Meaning: It ain’t Neil Simon. And maybe that’s the point.

    Cory Sapienza Spotlife. Photo by Sarah RoshanDirector Josh Hartwell wasn’t all that interested in staging this play if he could not find a gender-appropriate actor with the depth the pull off the tricky role of Max. To Hartwell, it wasn’t just a matter of creating an opportunity for an invisible class of local actors. It was about creating a play with artistic credibility. And he had guidance from the playwright, who strongly urges anyone staging Hir to find a transgender actor to play Max.

    Enter Sapienza, who identifies himself in his Facebook profile as: "Actor. Artist. Transgender. Hufflepuff!” He was coming off an ensemble appearance in Performance Now’s Bye Bye Birdie. But Hartwell saw much stranger things in his immediate future.

    (Pictured above and right: Cory Sapienza and Royce Roeswood in the Miners Alley Playhouse's 'Hir.' Photo by Sarah Roshan.)

    “It’s a challenging script because it’s so dark and frankly hard to live in,” Hartwell said. “But Cory was prepared every day. He showed up every day with a great attitude, was willing to take direction and go to the places I asked him to go to. And it helped that he really understood the role.”

    Westword’s Juliet Wittman said Sapienza, who benefited greatly from a stellar supporting cast of Royce Roeswood, Martha Harmon Pardee and Marc Stith, made for “a convincing and sometimes touching Max.”

    In the Spotlife: Our full interview with Cory Sapienza

    Sapienza said Max has had a very different trans experience from his own, because he comes from what he calls a loving, stable and supportive home. What he loved most about this play, he said, “is that it focuses on issues that are so common, and yet so often overlooked. I loved playing a character who helped bring visibility to the transgender community.”

    It was a small step forward — but a daring one.

    "That playwrights are starting to write parts for trans actors is progress," Hartwell said. That smaller theatres like Miners Alley Playhouse are choosing a play like Hir out of the thousands of scripts they could stage is progress. That audiences in Golden were open to seeing it is probably the greatest progress of all.

    “But it’s not enough yet.” 

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'
    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

  • Community conversation on theatre criticism Monday at Denver Center

    by John Moore | Jun 17, 2017
    Rick Yaconis, Juliet Wittman and Michael J. Duran

    From left: Rick Yaconis, Juliet Wittman and Michael J. Duran.

    Everyone's a Critic ... Literally, will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, June 19, in the DCPA's Conservatory Theatre

    By Gloria Shanstrom
    Colorado Theatre Guild

    The Colorado Theatre Guild will launch its new series, called Community Conversations, this Monday night with a candid and constructive conversation about the changing face of arts journalism today. First up is Everyone’s a Critic: Literally.

    With the decline of full-time jobs at traditional media outlets throughout the country, there is growing concern among arts organizations about the future of theatrical criticism. This panel will discuss the state of criticism today, what the future might hold and offer proactive strategies arts groups might consider to get their own stories told.

    The conversation takes place at 7 p.m. Monday, June 19, at the Denver Center's Robert and Judi Newman Center for Theatre Education, located at 13th and Arapahoe streets.

    John MooreThe panel will be moderated by John Moore, former longtime theatre critic at The Denver Post and now editor of a 4-year-old media outlet launched by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts as a shared asset for the entire Colorado theatre community. 

    Current panelists include Westword theatre critic Juliet Wittman, longtime blogger critic Patrick Dorn, The Edge Theatre Company Executive and Artistic Director Rick Yaconis and BDT Stage Producing Artistic Director Michael J. Duran. (Panel subject to change.)

    This Colorado Theatre Guild's new workshop and panel-discussion series, initiated by new CTG President Deb Flomberg, is aimed at Colorado theater producers, actors, designers, patrons and anyone wishing to get better insight into the process of creating and producing live theatre in Colorado. Attendees are asked to come with questions for this lively discussion.

    "Community Conversations are about one thing: Opening up the discussion to bring together the theatrical community in Colorado," Flomberg said.

    Everyone’s a Critic: Literally
    Newman Building

    • 7 p.m. Monday, June 19
    • At the Denver Center's Robert and Judi Newman Center for Theatre Education
    • 13th and Arapahoe streets
    • 1101 13th Street, Denver, CO 80204
    • Free to Colorado Theatre Guild members, and $5 at the door for non-members

    Panelist bios
    John Moore
    is an award-winning arts journalist who was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the United States by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. His online innovations for The Denver Post prompted the Chicago Tribune to suggest that The Denver Post‘s online theater coverage was the best in the nation. In 2013, he took a groundbreaking new position as an in-house journalist for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. His ongoing coverage of the entire Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org. He also started the Denver Actors Fund as a way of organizing community-wide responsive efforts when members of the local theatre community find themselves in immediate medical need. In just more than three years, the Denver Actors Fund has distributed more than $100,000 in direct financial relief to members of the Colorado theatre community. Last year John's full-length play Waiting for Obama was performed by an all-Colorado cast at the New York International Fringe Festival.

    Juliet Wittman studied acting while growing up in London (where she was privileged to see such greats as Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft onstage), and with Milton Katselas in New York. She has also worked in radio, off-off Broadway, summer-stock and repertory. As a graduate student in Colorado, she appeared at CU and the Nomad Playhouse and she also founded a feminist theatre company. For two years, she taught theater at the Colorado Women’s Correctional Facility: The inmates were allowed out of the prison several times to show their plays in Boulder, Colorado Springs and Denver’s Changing Scene, where Al Brooks served them cappuccino in tiny, elegant cups. As a writer, she has had essays and short stories published in literary magazines and won several journalism awards. Her memoir, Breast Cancer Journal: A Century of Petals, received the Colorado Book Award and was named a finalist for the National Book Award. She has been reviewing theatre for Westword for more than 15 years, during which time she’s learned more about the art form than she can begin to express.

    Patrick DornPatrick Dorn abandoned his Actor’s Equity card and fled Los Angeles in 1980. He moved to Denver, where he earned a master’s degree in theatre from the University of Denver, with emphases in theatre history, dramatic theory and criticism, playwriting and children’s theatre. As an associate professor, he taught these subjects and more at Colorado Christian University for several years. Before becoming a critic, he was first reader and editor at Pioneer Drama Service, where he read and wrote rejection letters for thousands of play submissions. He served on the faculty and board of Colorado ACTS drama school, directing dozens of plays with children and teens, and a few shows for grownups. Patrick has more than 40 of his own plays published in the children’s and youth theatre market. Patrick has written play reviews for the Denver Catholic Register and the Intermountain Jewish News, and for seven years was the theatre critic for the Boulder Daily Camera, attending approximately 120 plays annually. He remembers liking more than 700 of them. After leaving the Daily Camera to become an Anglican priest and later a full-time chaplain, he is posting his reviews on various blogs.

    Michael J. Duran has been the Producing Artistic Director at BDT Stage (formerly Boulder’s Dinner Theatre) since 2003, following a successful 23-year career in NYC. His credits include: Broadway: The Music Man, Crazy For You, Me and My Girl, Into the Light, Annie 2 (Pre Broadway). London and National Tours: Damn Yankees with Jerry Lewis, Sunset Boulevard with Petula Clark, Bye Bye Birdie with Tommy Tune and Anne Reinking, Hello Dolly! with Carol Channing and On Your Toes directed by George Abbott. Television: Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, Irving Berlin’s 100th Birthday Celebration at Carnegie Hall (CBS), and An Evening with Alan Jay Lerner for PBS Great Performances. He has worjed with Susan Stroman, Kathleen Marshall, Jack O’Brian, Jerry Mitchell, Mike Okrent, Gene Saks, George Abbott. During his tenure at BDT Stage, Michael has produced more than 53 shows and directed 17. He has received Denver Drama Critics Circle Awards, Top of the Rocky in 2005, Ovation and Henry Awards and was a 2015 recipient of The Dairy Center Honors for his contribution to the cultural life of Boulder through the arts.

    Rick Yaconis is the Executive and Artistic Director of The Edge Theater, which he founded seven years ago with his wife, Patty. Since then, he has produced nearly 50 shows and three new-play festivals. He has also directed 12 productions including The Nance and Murder Ballad in this past year and last year's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for which he was nominated for a CTG Henry award. Rick has acted in more than 10 Edge Theatre productions, most recently Misery and A View From the Bridge.

  • 2016 True West Award: Sam Gregory

    by John Moore | Dec 28, 2016
    True West Awards Sam Gregory


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 28: Sam Gregory

    When looking back on the dozens of seminal roles Sam Gregory has played on Denver stages for 25 years, you would do well to start with the three unforgettable characters he brought to cagey life in 2016 with a full heart, precision comedy and at times blood-curdling abandon.

    This year, he played three indelible and full-bodied characters who are changed for the better and, in one case, for the much, much worse. That would be the white guy on the bus he played in Curious Theatre’s White Guy on the Bus, Bruce Graham’s incendiary new play that highlights the racial disparities we see every day in the news, on our streets and in our jails.

    True West Awards Sam Gregory. White Guy on the Bus. Curious Theatre, Michael Ensminger. Gregory plays Ray, a liberal and wealthy banker who for unknown (at first) reasons takes the same bus each week that passes the remote state penitentiary. Over time, he befriends a single black mother who takes this same bus to visit her incarcerated brother. Eventually we discover this affable-seeming man is actually a roiling powder keg who is hatching a plan to avenge the brutal murder of his do-gooder wife.

    The play is a timely and intentionally uncomfortable case study of white privilege, and Gregory’s Ray served as a particularly cold conduit for this much-needed confrontation with many hard truths about racism in America. It was all the more discombobulating coming from a nice guy like Gregory - and that was the point.

    “Sam Gregory stands astride the evening, fascinating to watch at every moment, whether he’s maintaining a civilized veneer or allowing flame-spitting anger to break through,” wrote Westword’s Juliet Wittman. Added Beki Pineda of GetBoulder.com: “The evening belongs to Sam Gregory. The dark side beckons - and he cannot resist.”

    (Pictured above and right: Sam Gregory and Jada Suzanne Dixon in Curious Theatre's 'White Guy on the Bus.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    Read our recent profile of Sam Gregory

    Gregory followed that unnerving staging with two of the most high-profile performances of the year in local theatre, starting with Orgon in Moliere’s farcical comedy, Tartuffe. That production marked the launch of the Arvada Center’s new Black Box Theatre Company, which will now present its plays in repertory, mostly by a core company of recurring actors including Gregory.

    True West Awards Sam Gregory QuoteTartuffe is about a brazen con who pretends to be a devout holy man to swindle Orgon out of house, home … and wife! Orgon is a gullible bully who has only himself to blame for his comic predicament, "but instead he blames everyone around him,” Gregory told the DCPA NewsCenter. “He's full of bluster and self delusion.” But Gregory deftly managed to make his hilariously insufferable Orgon appealing to the audience as he was being mercilessly duped.

    Gregory came full circle at the end of the year when he took over for the legendary Philip Pleasants as Scrooge in the DCPA Theatre Company’s 24th seasonal staging of A Christmas Carol. It would have been a risk for any actor to try to don Pleasants’ Scrooge slippers, but audiences and critics alike responded positively to Gregory’s meaningful take on literature’s most notorious skinflint.

    “You need a Scrooge with intellect, depth and feeling,” wrote Juliet Wittman, “and Sam Gregory fills the bill.

    For a guy who played some bluntly irredeemable characters in 2016, Gregory’s Scrooge powerfully communicated Charles Dickens’ echoing mantra that no one is, in truth, irredeemable. “I hope the audience takes away that the very worst, most miserable, unhappy person that you might cross the street to avoid, can become a better person,” Gregory told Westword. “Scrooge is there to teach us that lesson.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    True West Awards Sam Gregory Gregory, who first appeared at the Denver Center in 1991, now has more than 45 DCPA Theatre Company credits to his name. Since the True West Awards began as The Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001, Gregory has been singled out for “Outstanding Season by an Actor” a record five times. You don’t get those kinds of accolades working alone, and his newest director, Melissa Rain Anderson of A Christmas Carol, said Gregory is one of the most collaborative artists she has ever worked with, an actor both “generous with his gifts and astounding with his discipline,” she said. (Photo at right by Adams VisCom.)

    At one A Christmas Carol rehearsal, Gregory wondered whether he should take it easy that day, to pace himself for the grueling run of performances ahead. “He asked me if he should go by the numbers and possibly not take the full emotional journey of Scrooge that day. And I said, ‘Of course!’ ” Anderson said.

    “Well, it only took a few scenes in before he was fully weeping.”

    That’s Gregory.

    "He's an absolute professional," added Tartuffe director and Arvada Center Artistic Director of Plays Lynne Collins. "He always shows up prepared and asks the kinds of questions that keep everyone honest. He's also one of the few actors I know who will walk away from an easy laugh if he thinks it's not furthering the story."

    Next up for Gregory: Starring as Vladimir in the Arvada Center’s Waiting for Godot, opening April 21, opposite DCPA Education Head of Acting Tim McCracken, Josh Robinson (DCPA’s All the Way), Sam Gilstrap and DCPA Teaching Artist Sean Scrutchins. It is a play that Collins put on the Arvada Center season, she says flatly, specifically because she has Gregory to perform in it.

    Sam Gregory/At a glance

  • True West Awards Sam Gregory. A Flea in Her Ear. Hometown: New Haven, Conn.
  • College: Menlo School (Atherton, Calif.); Masters from Cal-Berkeley
  • More than 45 DCPA Theatre Company credits including A Flea in Her Ear in 2005 (pictured at right.) He is a member of the Arvada Center Black Box Theatre Company and will return to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in the summer of 2017. He has also performed locally for the Curious Theatre, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and the late Paragon Theatre.
  • National credits include The Actor's Company Theatre of New York, Seattle Rep, Milwaukee Rep, San Jose Rep, Cleveland Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse, Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and more.

  • ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: John Hauser

    by John Moore | Dec 25, 2016
    True West Awards John Hauser


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 25: John Hauser

    If you were to call him Doogie Hauser, you would only be the latest. But given how well former child TV star Neil Patrick Harris’ career has turned out, John Hauser would surely take the compliment.

    We’re not saying Hauser is a kid. But his Biloxi Blues director Kate Gleason is saying that “as soon as John is potty-trained … he's gonna make a great actor.”

    True West Awards John Hauser QuoteSo he’s young. But there was nothing embryonic about his fully formed year on local stages: He starred in Biloxi Blues at Miners Alley Playhouse, and in Hand to God for Curious Theatre. He made a key appearance in Vintage Theatre's Rabbit Hole, and he performed as Romeo before 10,000 high-school students for DCPA Education.

    That’s a U.S. Army private who comes of age at Basic Training in Neil Simon’s 1943 Mississippi. A grieving, God-fearing teen in possession of (or possessed by) a devilish hand puppet. A guilt-wracked teen who plowed his car into a 4-year-old. And only the most famous lover in all of literature. Plus, he joined the cast of Off-Center’s immersive freakout Sweet and Lucky, and later understudied several roles in the DCPA Theatre Company’s Frankenstein.

    John Hauser may not be old. But as an actor, he grew up in 2016.

    “He’s so good, you forget how young he is,” said  Gleason, herself a 2014 True West Award winner. “I mean, he's barely teething, and yet he manages to find humanity in all his roles.”

    When DCPA Education Director Allison Watrous launched a new pilot program called Shakespeare in the Parking Lot in May 2015, she turned to Hauser first. A team from DCPA Education perform an abridged version of Romeo and Juliet on and around a beat-up old truck in school parking lots - sometimes four times a day. Meaning four times a day, students who otherwise might never be exposed to Shakespeare (or live theatre) crush on the Bard, crush on live performance and, invariably for some, crush on the actor who could win Prom King at just about every school he visits.

    “John is stunning as Romeo,” Watrous said. “He connects to the hearts and minds of the students through authenticity, vulnerability, humor, kindness and depth.” (Pictured below and right: John Hauser as Romeo. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Read our recent profile on John Hauser

    Hauser and his castmates, all skilled DCPA Education Teaching Artists, return to each school the next day for classroom workshops and ask students tough, ethically ambiguous questions that revolve around teenagers, their parents and issues of privacy and personal responsibility. The point is to help them better understand the issues at the heart of Romeo and Juliet. Because being a teen hasn't changed as much as you might think.

    True West Awards John Hauser Shakespeare in the Parking Lot"I am so grateful for John's energy and impact,” Watrous said. “He is a true talent.”

    Next semester, the team will tackle A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

    Hauser did not just turn a finger up at his squeaky-clean image, but his entire right hand with Hand to God, Robert Askins’ profanely dark comedy about a troubled teen who is forced to join his mother’s church-led puppet group after his father dies. But when his foul-mouthed sock puppet Tyrone takes on a life of its own and begins to encourage all those around him to give in to their carnal desires, the teen starts to question everything he's been taught. 

    “John brings a true lightness to the room,” said Hand to God Director Dee Covington. “He is generous, reflective and tireless in his determination to not only conquer but totally devour the creative task at hand. He knew the mountain was steep and arduous, but I was so impressed by his ability to temper that slightly self-effacing inner critic with humor and fearlessness. His grit and heart are inspiring.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Westword theatre critic Juliet Wittman wrote: “Hauser does brilliantly in the schizophrenic role of Jason, fully inhabiting both the teen’s innocence and Tyrone’s savagery, skillfully manipulating the intransigent puppet.”

    True West Awards John Hauser Rabbit Hole In July, Hauser and his Rabbit Hole cast were honored with the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Outstanding Ensemble Henry Award (with Haley Johnson, Marc Stith, Maggy Stacy and Deborah Persoff). As the accidental grim reaper who devastates a family when their son runs in front of his car, “John Hauser manages to deliver a handful of wallops in his limited scenes,” wrote the Aurora Sentinel’s Quincy Snowdon.

    But perhaps the most impressive evidence of Hauser’s stellar year is simply his dream team of directors: Kate Gleason, Allison Watrous, Dee Covington, Bernie Cardell  (Rabbit Hole), Zach Morris (Sweet and Lucky) and Sam Buntrock (Frankenstein).

    “He is a lovely human being,” Covington said, “and he makes the world a more artful place.”

    And he's not slowing down in 2017. In January, Hauser will be playing Ken in John Logan’s acclaimed Red, the story of the temperamental genius artist Mark Rothko and his apprentice, at the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre.

    (Pictured above and right: Haley Johnson and John Hauser in Vintage Theatre's 'Rabbit Hole.' Photo by Denver Mind Media.)

    John Hauser/At a glance

    • Hometown: Cocoa, Fla.
    • Home now: Denver
    • High school: The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs
    • College: Adams State University in Alamosa
    • Selected additional credits: The Few and Ambition Facing West for Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company; Jerusalem for The Edge Theatre Company
    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • Off-Center's 'Sweet & Lucky' extended through Aug. 7

    by NewsCenter Staff | Jun 08, 2016




    The Denver Center for the Performing Arts' Off-Center announced today that Sweet & Lucky has been extended through Aug. 7  to accommodate audience demand.

    Sweet and Lucky Colby Foss Sweet & Lucky, a commissioned work by Brooklyn-based Third Rail Projects, is the DCPA’s first foray into large-scale immersive theatre. The production has sold out all 48 of its originally scheduled performances. Tickets for the six-week extension are now available at SweetAndLuckyDenver.com.

     Off-Center is the DCPA's the newest and most unconventional programming arm, focusing on upending theatrical expectations and traditions. 

    Buy your Sweet & Lucky tickets here


    Sweet & Lucky is a “brave, lovely, original adventure," according to Juliet Wittman of Westword, and it constitutes the largest physical undertaking in the DCPA's nearly 40-year history. 

    (Pictured right: Colby Foss of 'Sweet and Lucky.' Photo by Adams Viisual Communications.)

    The two-hour mobile adventure takes place in a sprawling 16,000-square-foot warehouse (owned by Westfield Company) on Brighton Boulevard. Attendees step into a mysterious antique store and plunge into a labyrinth of dreamlike encounters.

    Audience members follow performers through intricately designed environments, into intimate engagements, and witness a series of seductive and haunting flashbacks. It's a 360-degree experience that uses all five senses to evoke the power and fragility of memories. Audiences also enjoy specialty cocktails before and after the show crafted by award-winning mixologist Sean Kenyon at a pop-up version of Kenyon’s Williams and Graham speakeasy.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter


    Please note that each performance is limited to 72 audience members.

    Sweet & Lucky’s present ensemble of actors includes Denver-based performers Diana Dresser, Colby Foss, Ondine Geary, Meridith C. Grundei, Kevin Lowry, Leigh Miller, Patrick Mueller, Tara Rynders, Mackenzie Sherburne, Luke Sorge, Justin Walvoord, Edith Weiss, Ryan Wuestewald and Amanda Berg Wilson; and Lia Bonfilio (of Third Rail Projects).

    Sweet & Lucky: Ticket information
    Sweet & Lucky plays through Aug. 7 at 4120 E. Brighton Boulevard, with newly added performances. Only 72 audience members per performance. Wear comfortable shoes. Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Note: Sweet & Lucky has its own web site. You should check it out here. 


    Sweet & Lucky production photos:

    Sweet & Lucky
    To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by Adams Visual Communications.


    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Sweet & Lucky:
    Photos: Opening night coverage
    5 things we learned about Sweet & Lucky
    Zach Morris is home to seize the cultural moment
    Casting announced; tickets onsale
    DCPA to create new immersive theatre piece with Third Rail Projects
    Kickstarter campaign allows audience to dive deeper


    More photos: The making of Sweet & Lucky: 

    Making of 'Sweet & Lucky'
    To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter.

  • 2015 True West Awards: Rebecca Remaly

    by John Moore | Dec 28, 2015
    True West Award Rebecca Remaly

    Timothy McCracken and Emily Paton Davies of 'Outside Mullingar.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.

    2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS: 30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    ​Today’s recipient:
    Rebecca Remaly
    Managing Director, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company

    Today’s award presenter:
    DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore


    Stephen Weitz has been on a pretty public roll these past few years. The co-founder of the 10-year-old Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company just directed Tribes and The SantaLand Diaries back-to-back at his second artistic home, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Meanwhile, his own rising company back in Boulder has been picking up four-star reviews like so many coins in a fountain, most recently for the Chekhov variation Stupid F***ing Bird and, last month, for John Patrick Shanley’s Irish romance Outside Mullingar.

    Rebecca Remaly quote 2In 2012, Weitz was named the True West Theatre Person of the Year. But he would be the first to insist that the driving force behind his theatre company, his family and pretty much his whole life is his wife, Rebecca Remaly.

    When the pair started BETC (colloquially known as “Betsy”) in 2006, their artistic plan was noble. The mission: “To present profound theatrical stories that inspire our audiences and enrich our community.” And in 2009, Remaly figured out a foolproof, slightly ignoble way to pay for it: By staging an annual production of The SantaLand Diaries, which just completed its sixth sold-out holiday run and third as co-production with the DCPA. Remaly directed the inaugural production that started it all.

    Remaly is also an accomplished director who has been authoritatively delivering one solid regional premiere after another for BETC. She has helmed 17 titles over the past decade, and two in 2015: The Aliens and Outside Mullingar. One is a deliberately slow-motion tale following two wayward young men who spend their days in the alley behind a coffee shop talking music and Bukowski. The other is the old-fashioned romantic tale of a pair of stubborn, middle-aged Irish introverts who decide to take a chance on late love.

    Broadway reviewers were largely ambivalent about Shanley’s unexpectedly sentimental turn after his searing Doubt, but Remaly’s staging of Mullingar struck a deep chord with audiences and critics alike. If it’s true that directing is about 90 percent casting, then Remaly hit Mullingar about 90 percent out of the ballpark when she cast Chris Kendall, Emily Paton Davies, DCPA Head of Acting Timothy McCracken and Colorado Theatre Guild Life Achievement winner Billie McBride. The Denver Post’s Joanne Ostrow called what that foursome presented “spellbinding.”

    But of perhaps even greater importance to BETC’s success has been Remaly’s contributions as Managing Director. With Remaly managing the business side of the operation, BETC’s annual operating budget has steadily climbed over the past three seasons from $285,000 to $350,000 to $420,000. Back in 2006, it was $12,000. That represents a growth of 3,400 percent.

    “She's incredible with numbers, and I give her a ton of credit for the financial health and success that the company has achieved over the years,” said Weitz. “At the same time, she's a hell of a good artist. Many of our most successful shows have been under her direction. I would go so far as to say she's possibly the most underrated director in the area.”

    Westword’s Juliet Wittman has certainly seen the light. Remaly’s An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf in 2014 “announced emphatically that BETC was at the top of its game, both in choice of material and in terms of performances.”

    If Remaly weren’t so busy behind the scenes, you’d likely be seeing more of her on the stage as well. Her acting resume includes Doubt (Sister James), Stop Kiss (Sara), The Glass Menagerie (Laura) and Antigone (Ismene) for BETC. She also played Hannah in Curious Theatre Company’s world premiere of Collapse. And then there is young Jamison, the son she and Weitz welcomed to the family in 2012.

    Remaly is part of a remarkable organic trend that is underway in Boulder: With the exception of Michael J. Duran of the venerable BDT Stage, all of Boulder’s present theatre companies are managed by women: Pesha Rudnick (Local Theatre Company), Amanda Berg Wilson (The Catamounts), Emily K. Harrison (the lower-cased square product theatre company) and Remaly (BETC).

    Weitz knows one thing for sure:

    “In all honesty, BETC would be nothing without her," he said. "There's no way we would have ever gotten this far without her leadership.”

    Stephen Weitz with son Jamison at a 2013 opening that happened to be his son's first bithday. Photo by John Moore.
    Stephen Weitz with son Jamison at a 2013 opening that happened to be his son's first birthday. Photo by John Moore.

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. This year, DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from around the state over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore's daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org


    THE 2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Rachel D. Graham
    Day 2: BALLS! A Holiday Spectacular
    Day 3: Creede Repertory Theatre's 50th anniversary season
    Day 4: Laurence Curry
    Day 5: Bernie Cardell
    Day 6: Susan Lyles
    Day 7: John Jurcheck​
    Day 8: Christopher L. Sheley
    Day 9: DCPA Education's 'Shakespeare in the Parking Lot'
    Day 10: Man and Monster: Todd Debreceni and TJ Hogle
    Day 11: Shauna Johnson
    Day 12: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant
    Day 13: Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye
    Day 14: Keith Ewer
    Day 15: Allison Watrous
    Day 16: Jonathan Farwell
    Day 17: Bob, Wendy and Missy Moore
    Day 18: Emma Messenger
    Day 19: Shannon McKinney
    Day 20: Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter
    Day 21: Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin
    Day 22: Scott Beyette
    Day 23: Augustus Truhn
    Day 24: Jimmy Bruenger
    Day 25: The Masters of Props: Rob Costigan, Peki Pineda and Becky Toma
    Day 26: Jalyn Courtenay Webb
    Day 27: Andre Rodriguez
    Day 28: Rebecca Remaly
    Day 29: Mark Collins
    Day 30: Phamaly Theatre Company's Cabaret
    Bonus: Donald R. Seawell
  • 2015 True West Award: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant

    by John Moore | Dec 12, 2015
    True West Awards Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant. Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.
    Photos by Jennifer M. Koskinen.


    2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS: 30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    ​Today’s recipients: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant
    Colorado Shakespeare Festival


    Today’s presenter: John Moore, DCPA Senior Arts Journalist


    It’s a rare thing to be watching any live performance and just know that you are witnessing a moment of culmination and ascendancy. Last summer in Boulder, it happened twice.

    For blood brothers Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant, the summer of 2015 was a rite of passage. As the evil Iago in Othello and the titular warrior king in Henry V, Kent and Bonenfant came of age before our eyes in breakout, breathtaking performances for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.  

    MGeoff Kent in 'Much Ado About Nothing' at Colorado Shakes. Photo by Jennifer M. KoskinenThese are no rookies. Kent has been acting, directing and staging fight choreography on stages all over Colorado and throughout the nation for nearly 20 years. In fact, he is tied with Sam Sandoe for the most current consecutive seasons with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, with 13. Bonenfant is still a pup, and yet he won his first Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award more than three years ago, and has worked for nearly every major theatre company from his hometown in Colorado Springs to Boulder.

    But Kent forged his solid stage rep as a thief, having stolen too many shows to count with his sword and rapier wit - sometimes going so far as to whip a tiny dog out of his – pouch – for a shameless laugh. Bonenfant is the iconic Romeo who has left audiences swooning playing lovers and princes and brooding romantic heroes. (Pictured above right: Geoff Kent in 'Much Ado About Nothing' in 2015. Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.)

    Then came the summer of 2015, when the two locked step and delivered the kind of transformational performances that have turned them into unequivocal leading men. Bonenfant was cast to play carousing King Henry V, who evolves from rowdy and rebellious teenager into a brilliant military leader who leads his outnumbered men into the breach and emerges with them as the surprise vanquishers in what many historians have come to think of an an unjust war. Bonenfant accepted the contradiction of his calling with a fervor and aplomb that resulted in a performance Westword reviewer Juliet Wittman called magnificent, enthralling and smart. “His Henry is so original, right, tough, supple and intelligent that the role becomes entirely new — and deserving of a place with the major interpretations of the past,” Wittman wrote. 

    Goodbye Romeo; hello, Henry.

    Carolyn Howarth quote“Playing Henry really launched Benjamin into another sphere of actor,” said his director, Carolyn Howarth. “He's certainly a leading man now. He is both warrior and king. The truth is, as silly as it may sound, I'd follow him into a breach any day."

    Likewise, casting directors might not have thought of the likable Kent as the type of actor who could plumb the moral bottom-feeding depths the consummate villain Iago requires. But Othello director Lisa Wolpe and Colorado Shakes Artistic Director Timothy Orr smartly recognized that Kent’s most affable qualities are exactly what make a winning Iago only that much more venomous.

    Wittman said Kent worked his lethal manipulation on poor Othello and his wife with crystal clarity and an infectious joy. “He operates with such charm that you find yourself shocked when you realize what he’s actually capable of,” Wittman wrote. “It’s like working on a suicide-prevention hotline, as volunteers in Seattle once did, and discovering that the nice, articulate man beside you is Ted Bundy.”

    Goodbye Grumio; hello, Iago.

    Benjamin Bonenfant in 'Wittenburg.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.
    Benjamin Bonenfant as Hamlet in 'Wittenberg' for the 2015 Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

    Orr thinks the secret to Kent’s success was simple: He left the dog at home.

    “He just played it so straight and natural,” Orr said. “There was no winking; no mustache-twirling. It was not performative. He really dug down and found something legitimately honest and scary in that role.”

    Timothy Orr quoteOrr, now in his third year leading Colorado Shakes, says he is forever indebted to Kent for what he has meant to the festival over the years. “He brings a wealth of experience and skill to our company, and he works like a demon,” Orr said. “He can direct or be a clown or play a leading role or serve as a fight director or help us to purchase weaponry. He is the full package. He’s a Swiss Army knife for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.”

    2015 was a very big year for both Bonenfant and Kent in Boulder and beyond. Bonenfant also appeared in the DCPA Theatre Company’s world premiere of Benediction; he played no less than Hamlet (yes, that Hamlet) in David Davalos’ new play Wittenberg for Colorado Shakes; and he starred in the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center’s widely acclaimed Colorado premiere of 4000 Miles opposite Billie McBride. He is currently appearing in the DCPA Theatre Company’s A Christmas Carol through Dec. 27.

    Kent played Don Pedro in Colorado Shakes’ Much Ado About Nothing and directed perhaps the surprise success of the year – the Aurora Fox’s poignant and playful She Kills Monsters, inspired by the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons. He also helmed the Colorado Springs TheatreWorks' current run of Born Yesterday. Kent is the Resident Fight Director for every show staged by the DCPA Theatre Company, and he recently played a lord in its recent production of As You Like It.

    As for the future - these cats are out of the bag, and things likely will never be the same for either of them. Most evidently for Bonenfant, who has landed the plum role of Pip in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's highly anticipated world premiere of Great Expectations. directed by Penny Metropulos, who directed the DCPA Theatre Company's You Can't Take It With You in 2007. Bonenfant begins rehearsal in Ashland just two days after A Christmas Carol closes in Denver on Dec. 27, and he will be under contract there for almost all of 2016. While there, he also will be understudying his dream role in Hamlet.

    Kent will appear at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival next summer as Achilles in Troilus and Cressida, and as Iacomo in Cymbeline. He also will direct The Comedy of Errors, with a gender-flipping twist: The four characters named Antipholus and Dromio (two each) will be played by women, and their “wives” will be played by men. “We’ve read it though, and all the jokes are funnier,” said Orr.

    LISTEN TO OUR RUNNING LINES PODCAST:


    Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant spoke with DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore just before the start of the 2015 Colorado Shakespeare Festival season. Click play.

    SEE THEIR WORK NOW

    Kent is the director of Colorado Springs TheatreWorks' Born Yesterday,
    playing through Dec. 23, 719-255-3232 or theatreworkscs.org. Bonenfant is appearing in the DCPA Theatre Company's A Christmas Carol through Dec. 27, 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. This year, DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from around the state over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore's daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Rachel D. Graham
    Day 2: BALLS! A Holiday Spectacular
    Day 3: Creede Repertory Theatre's 50th anniversary season
    Day 4: Laurence Curry
    Day 5: Bernie Cardell
    Day 6: Susan Lyles
    Day 7: John Jurcheck​
    Day 8: Christopher L. Sheley
    Day 9: DCPA Education's 'Shakespeare in the Parking Lot'
    Day 10: Man and Monster: Todd Debreceni and TJ Hogle
    Day 11: Shauna Johnson
    Day 12: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant
    Day 13: Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye
    Day 14: Keith Ewer
    Day 15: Allison Watrous
    Day 16: Jonathan Farwell
    Day 17: Bob, Wendy and Missy Moore
    Day 18: Emma Messenger
    Day 19: Shannon McKinney
    Day 20: Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter
    Day 21: Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin
    Day 22: Scott Beyette
    Day 23: Augustus Truhn
    Day 24: Jimmy Bruenger
    Day 25: The Masters of Props: Rob Costigan, Peki Pineda and Becky Toma
    Day 26: Jalyn Courtenay Webb
    Day 27: Andre Rodriguez
    Day 28: Rebecca Remaly
    Day 29: Mark Collins
    Day 30: Phamaly Theatre Company's Cabaret
    Bonus: Donald R. Seawell
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    ABOUT THE EDITOR
    John Moore
    John Moore
    Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

    DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.