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

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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.

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