2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS
Day 15: Chris Kendall
Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
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).
As 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.)
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.
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.
Kendall 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
The 2017 True West Awards
- 2017 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year Regan Linton
- Day 30: The Breakouts: Steven J. Burge and Jeremy Rill
- Day 29: Composer and Music Director David Nehls
- Day 28: Lighting Designer Vance McKenzie
- Day 27: Buntport Theater’s The Zeus Problem
- Day 26: The Women of The Revolutionists
- Day 25: The Difference-Makers who raised $112,000 for The Denver Actors Fund
- Day 24: John Ashton, Vintage Theatre’s August: Osage County
- Day 23: Six “set-sational” set designers
- Day 22: Meridith and Gary Grundei, The Catamounts’ Beowulf
- Day 21: Logan Ernstthal, Creede Repertory Theatre’s General Store
- Day 20: Kevin Landis, University of Colorado Colorado Springs
- Day 19: Lenne Klingaman, Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Hamlet
- Day 18: Helen Hand, Firehouse Theater Company
- Day 17: Randy Chalmers, two productions of Hairspray
- Day 16: Lauren Shealy, Lone Tree Arts Center’s Evita
- Day 15: Chris Kendall, Boulder Ensemble’s An Iliad
- Day 14: Stage Manager Maegan Burnell
- Day 13: White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Pipedream Productions and Star Bar Players
- Day 12: Playwright Josh Hartwell
- Day 11: The Rape of the Sabine Women, Local Theatre Company
- Day 10: Sammie Joe Kinnett, Arvada Center’s The Foreigner
- Day 9: Brandon Case, Aurora Fox Technical Director
- Day 8: Emily Van Fleet, Off-Center’s The Wild Party
- Day 7: Entertainment entrepreneur Kenny Moten
- Day 6: Bobby G Awards Coordinator Claudia Carson
- Day 5: Haley Johnson and Sydney Parks Smith, August: Osage County
- Day 4: Olyvia Sydelle and Joanie Brosseau, BDT Stage’s Rock of Ages
- Day 3: Cory Sapienza, Miners Alley Playhouse’s Hir
- Day 2: Opening of the Silverthorne Performing Arts Complex
- Day 1: The Tramps (Michael Bouchard, Sam Gregory, Timothy McCracken and Sean Scrutchins)
- 2016: Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride