2014 True West Award: Rick Yaconis




Over the years, I have enjoyed a playful repartee with genial tough guy Rick Yaconis, who’s from Pittsburgh, though you’d swear he walked straight outta Jersey. Bada bing. Yaconis took over the E-Project Theatre in 2010 and renamed it The Edge with the stated objective of lifting it out from the overcrowded pack of small, similar neighborhood troupes in the Denver area. And I have chided and cajoled, championed and chastised him every encouraging step of his way.

Growing into the ranks of Denver’s few mid-sized, professional theatre companies will be no small – or fast – task. But it is clear that the smallest company having the most noticeable growth spurt at the moment is The Edge Theatre.

In 2014, Yaconis and wife Patty delivered solid stagings of challenging titles that were worthy of the company’s bold name, even if the edgiest days of the plays he chose came a decade or more before: Orphans, The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Buried Child. Solid work all around. Then there were decidedly non-Edgy titles that muddled the message, such as The Graduate and Gifted. But Yaconis sent out his clearest signal to date that things are changing by expanding his director and actor pool. 2014 brought Augustus Truhn, Michael Bouchard, Emily Paton Davies, Michael Stricker, Adrian Egolf, Jack Wefso, Mark Collins and other respected actors to The Edge for the first time. But there were also examples of the kind of preferential casting you see from small friends-and-family companies that were not always in service to the plays, or the company’s overall mission. It’s at times, confusing. 

What was made crystal clear in September is that Season 5 will be a jaw-dropper: The Mother****er with the Hat, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ surprisingly funny comedy about jealousy and addiction by America’s reigning King of Nasty. Mike Bartlett’s Cock, a title we can print here because it’s a relationship comedy some might describe as “the ultimate cockfight.” As the winner of The Edge’s annual new-play festival, local playwright Jeffrey Neuman’s Exit Strategies earned a full staging. It’s about a man who is drawn back into explosive family dynamics when he returns home for his father’s funeral. And Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will never not be considered edgy. Then there are some less edgy-sounding titles, but at least they will be new to the area: American Girls by Hillary Bettis, about two God-fearing, celebrity-starved Iowa farm girls. And Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman in Mind, a British comedy about a cleric’s frustrated wife.

And then there is Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth. Nothing any local theatre company has ever scheduled has scared me more than the prospect of The Edge taking on this incredible opus about a drunken, wanted man who faces eviction from his trailer home in the rural woods of Wiltshire. Seeing Mark Rylance perform Jerusalem on Broadway was to humbly acknowledge the unlikelihood that any of us in the audience will ever see a greater live performance in our lifetimes. But hey, good luck with that, Edge.

How a Nora Ephron title (Lucky Me) made the cut escapes me, but I’ll focus instead on the fact that The Edge’s expanding director pool will include big-time Edge newcomers Josh Hartwell, Warren Sherrill and John Ashton.

The first few years of The Edge seemed to be a lot of “two steps forward, one step back,” but those steps back now seem to be much fewer and further between. And, by taking many more steps forward than back, just look at where The Edge is now: Miles further down the road from where the Yaconises started five years ago.

One thing we know as 2014 ends is that it will be impossible not to watch The Edge in 2015.

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.

*The DCPA Theatre Company is not considered for True West Awards, which are instead intended as the DCPA’s celebration of the local theatre community.

Moore’s daily coverage of the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

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