2017 True West Award: Chris Kendall

by John Moore | Dec 15, 2017
2017 True West Award Chris Kendall

2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

Day 15: Chris Kendall

Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
Vintage Theatre
Benchmark Theatre

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

Chris Kendall has an Everyman quality that not every man has.

And it served the veteran actor well in 2017 when he played, essentially, every man in the history of time in An Iliad. And again as a lonely widower tending to a dingy South Philadelphia bar in Stella and Lou. And again as an aging father attempting to bridge a gap with his adult daughter in Birds of North America. And again as a grieving old Colonel whose encroaching dementia is picking off memories like apples off a tree in the current Smokefall (through Dec. 23).

Chris Kendall Emma Messenger John MooreAs an actor, Kendall can play just about anyone. He is as sturdy as an oak, as honest as Abe and as reliable as a Rolex. Although he’d probably prefer we say “Timex,” because the one thing Kendall is not is flashy.

To Emma Messenger, acting with Kendall “is like acting with a unicorn.” OK, so invoking a sparkly, mythical horned creature puts perhaps a too-fanciful spin on this particular point, but hear her out:

“There is something so magical about the way Chris lives in the world of a play,” she said. "You always feel you’re in the presence of something alive, and that anything could happen.”

Messenger was Kendall’s scene partner in Vintage Theatre’s charming two-hander Stella and Lou, which was so well-received in 2016 that this year the pair took it on the road to the Dairy Center in Boulder and the Barth Hotel in Denver as a benefit for Senior Housing Options. (Photo at right by Christine Fisk.)

Lou is Kendall’s kind of guy: A simple man whose compacted grief has him retreating further into his loneliness — until sweet Stella enters the bar.

Kendall tends to make his biggest impressions as an actor when he goes small. He’s just so natural and unassuming in the way he carries himself on a stage that sometimes you forget he’s playing a role. Ironic then, that after years of steady and reliable performances on stages all over Colorado, he delivered perhaps the crowning achievement of his career this year in a performance that was of — literally —  mythological proportions.

(Story continues below the photo.)

True West Awards Chris Kendall Iliad Michael Ensminger
Chris Kendall in 'Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's An Iliad at the Dairy Arts Center. Photo by Michael Ensminger. 


An Iliad
, staged by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, is a one-man retelling of Homer’s epic poem. And a one-man meditation on perpetual American conflicts from Boston to Colorado Springs. Kendall, known only as The Poet, presents himself in the present day as a tired old garbageman long cursed like Midas to wander the centuries telling his cautionary, first-hand account of the Trojan War until such a time when mankind actually heeds his lessons and puts an end to war itself.

But as we know only all too well, war has been a constant throughout recorded history. And as America continues to be mired in the longest war in its history, we have little reason to believe it ends here.

In making The Poet’s case, Kendall transcended time and type. He delivered a physical, raging performance that rattled the cages of all who saw it — and perhaps a few long-disintegrating bones left scattered over time throughout the battlefields of history.

“The biggest challenge for Chris was that the role is just such a monstrosity,” said his director, Stephen Weitz. “It’s an incredibly physical, emotional, draining role that requires not only stamina but 100 percent, absolute commitment at all times. Chris was out there on the wire all by himself.”

Writing for getboulder.com, Beki Pineda said Kendall was just right for the challenge. "He has the stature, the age and the gravitas to pull it off," she said. "Like Odysseus, The Poet is an old soldier who just wants to go home. His genuine fatigue and disillusionment lend a poignancy to his mission. This is a tour-de-force performance that holds you by the heart until Kendall lets you go."

Had Kendall left the stage after An Iliad and never come back, it would have been the theatrical equivalent of Elway walking off the field after winning his second straight Super Bowl and never returning. But that Kendall came back to BETC just a few months later to play a stoic old birder only demonstrates his sweeping range.

"His simplicity on stage can also be heartbreaking," said Lindsey Pierce, who played Kendall's daughter in the world premiere of the modest two-hander called Birds of North America by Anna Moench.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Kendall, who graduated from the abandoned old Cathedral High School in downtown Denver and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, is presently wrapping up his triumphant year playing another heartbreakingly specific old man whose greatness has been gradually robbed by time in Noah Haidle’s Smokefall, one of the richest new paintings of an American family in years. It’s a fanciful play but deeply rooted in relatable family dynamics.

Chris Kendall Smokefall McLeod9CreativeKendall plays a loving old military man who goes out for his daily walk and never comes home, leaving his pregnant daughter to forever wonder if simply he got lost, or simply lost her. The five-person play, running through Dec. 23 at Buntport Theater, is a comparative epic for Kendall considering he only shared the stage with three actors in his three preceding 2017 plays combined.

(Pictured right: Chris Kendall, Sarai Brown and John Hauser in Benchmark's 'Smokefall.'  Photo by McLeod9Creative.)

“One of the things I've loved most about working with Chris is that he's always willing to play in rehearsal,” said Smokefall director Rachel Rogers. “He creates a fun rapport with his castmates. He comes into the first rehearsal already performance-ready, but he continues to refine his characters with an honest nuance.”

If there is a commonality to the four indelible old men Kendall portrayed this year, it’s perhaps their accumulated sorrow and fatigue over time. But the difference between The Poet and The Colonel is as stark as the difference between macro and micro. Kendall clearly can do both large and small … and everything in-between.

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.

Chris Kendall 2017: 

  • The Poet in An Iliad, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
  • Lou in Stella and Lou, Vintage Theatre

    (At the Dairy Center in Boulder and the Barth Hotel in Denver)

  • John in Birds of North America, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
  • Colonel/Johnny in Smokefall, Benchmark Theatre (through Dec. 23 at Buntport Theater)
  • Lou in Stella and Lou, Vintage Theatre

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

Leave a comment

POPULAR POSTS
 
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.