2014 True West Award: Emma Messenger

emma messenger True West Awards

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True_West_Award_300.Emma Messenger specializes in not just playing but conquering larger-than-life characters she really has no business playing. The actress has an ageless quality, to be sure, but she’s nowhere near old enough to age-appropriately play, say, Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Mag in The Beauty Queen of Lennane or Halie in Buried Child, all of whom are written for women in their 60s or 70s. And yet, here she is, finishing a remarkable two-year run of 10 plays during which her reputation has only grown with each successive knockout performance. 2014 brought Messenger the opportunity to take on two more delightfully perverse old nags at the Edge Theatre: The selfish and manipulative Irish ma who will stop at nothing to destroy her daughter’s only chance at happiness in Martin McDonagh’s black and brutal Lennane; and the sunnily sinister wife who – aww — gave birth to her grandson in Sam Shepard’s American Horror Story, Buried Child. Younger – or less accomplished — actors tend to turn massive, iconic matrons like these into pantomime villains, but Messenger manages to convey the size, scope and cruelty of her roles with intensity and restraint, rather than volume and over-gesticulation. That’s especially important at the Edge, where the edge of the stage also happens to be in the audience’s lap. Messenger, who also won a True West Award last year for her comic performance in Illumination Theatre’s Sordid Lives, can be funny, too. She is currently appearing as a pedophile-hunting vigilante (and others) in a dark holiday farce called The Lying Kind at Colorado Springs TheatreWorks (through Dec. 21). Messenger also got to originate a role this year. She played a mother in her 60s (surprise!) who is described as “an emotional maelstrom” in local playwright Jeffrey Neuman’s Exit Strategies. That won the top prize at the Edge’s new-play festival, meaning it will get a full production next December. Honestly, I don’t know where exactly Messenger came to us from back in 2012, but it was seemingly from out of the blue. (OK, her bio says she came to Denver from her native Birmingham, U.K., via Texas A&M). I just know things haven’t been the same on local stages since she got here and started shaking things up. The woman is just plain interesting in any part she plays. I just can’t wait to see her when she’s actually old enough for the parts she’s playing.

1: Norrell Moore
2. Kate Gleason
3. Amanda Berg Wilson and Jeremy Make
4. Ben Cowhick
5. Robert Michael Sanders
6. David Nehls
7. Adrian Egolf
8. Emma Messenger
9. Buntport’s Naughty Bits
10. Tim Howard
11. Gleason Bauer
12. Daniel Traylor
13. Aisha Jackson and Jim Hogan
14. Cast of ‘The Whipping Man’
15. Rick Yaconis
16. Michael R. Duran
17. Laura Norman
18. Jacquie Jo Billings
19. Megan Van De Hey
20. Jeremy Palmer
21. Henry Lowenstein   
22. Sam Gregory
23. Wendy Ishii
24. J. Michael Finley
25. Kristen Samu and Denver Actors Fund volunteers
26. Matthew D. Peters
27. Shannan Steele
28. Ludlow, 1914
29. Spring Awakening and Annapurna
30 Theatre Person of the Year Steve Wilson

The True West Awards, which began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001, are the longest-running continuously administered awards program in Colorado theater. This year, the awards have been re-conceived to simply recognize 30 award-worthy achievements in local theatre, without categories or nominations. A different honoree will be singled out each day for 30 days.

The True West Awards are administered by arts journalist John Moore, who was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since founded The Denver Actors Fund and taken a groundbreaking position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. For ethical reasons, the DCPA Theatre Company is not considered for True West Awards, which are the DCPA’s celebration of the rest of the local theatre community. Moore’s coverage of the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org 

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