2015 True West Award: John Jurcheck

John Jurcheck True West Award
John Jurcheck and Laura Jo Trexler in Curious Theatre’s ‘The Flick.’ Photo by Michael Ensminger.


​Today’s recipient: Actor John Jurcheck

Today’s presenter: 2014 True West Award winner Amanda Berg Wilson

Actor John Jurcheck started and finished his year playing adrift characters in two proudly passive plays written by Annie Baker, perhaps the most praised and polarizing playwright in America at the moment. Baker has made her name by testing the limits of theatre audiences’ patience. She writes long, intentional pauses into her stories where nothing – seemingly – happens on stage. We’re not talking pregnant pauses. We are talking camel gestation.

Baker has been celebrated for forcing theatregoers to confront their growing discomfort with silence in our increasingly short-attention-span society. To fans, Baker’s plays are a celebration of the inordinate ordinary. To naysayers, her plays are a monotonous waste of your time. 

John Jurcheck in 'The Aliens' at Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company. Photo by Daniel Leonard.The Pulitzer Prize committee has a decidedly checkered record when it comes to determining America’s best plays, but one thing was certain when it chose Baker’s The Flick for its 2014 honor: The award made inevitable that audiences around the country were going to be challenged with her opus. This year, Curious Theatre pounced on The Flick, while Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company snatched its precursor, The Aliens. And in many ways, Jurcheck was the glue that held both productions together. (Pictured above: John Jurcheck in ‘The Aliens’ for the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company. Photo by Daniel Leonard.)

In The Aliens, Jurcheck played KJ, an unbalanced, Beat-like slacker wiling away his early 30s in the alley behind a Vermont café. In The Flick, he was Sam, a dead-end film buff wiling away his early 30s mopping floors at an old-time Massachusetts movie house.

On paper, we are talking two very short scripts. In performance, more than five hours combined. That’s a lot of silence. And sighing. And sweeping. And, in one instance, a very long attempted sneeze.

John Jurcheck quoteAmanda Berg Wilson, founder of Boulder’s The Catamounts and today’s True West Awards guest picker, walked into The Flick dubious, she says politely. “I am a 90-minute-play girl. I don’t get excited by writers who think their plays should be 3½ hours long.”

She left the performance believing Jurcheck had accomplished something remarkable.

“It was naturalism to perfection,” Wilson said. “He was so seamless in his rhythm. He seemed to completely inhabit the world of the play in his character.”

And of those interminable silences?

“The incorporation of a real-time feel is incredibly necessary for the tension of that play,” she said. “But John made the pauses into tense and meaningful silences that were fascinating to watch. Nothing about what he did came across as experimental or random.”

In The Aliens, Jurcheck also had to tackle live music challenges. Baker tasked his character with singing arrhythmic, nonlinear songs that, Jurcheck told A.H. Goldstein in an interview with the Boulder Daily Camera, “offer my character a way to make sense of his life. They let him express these feelings that he has that have never been accepted in regular society. They let him experiment with ideas and release tensions in his life.”

Jurcheck, a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, sympathetically communicated frustration, boredom, passivity and depression in his roles, along with the effects of drug abuse and psychological disturbance. And he did it largely without the benefit of dialogue or forward action. That is, to both audiences and fellow actors of the craft, an accomplishment worth shouting about.

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

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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