Monday, February 16, 2009

Commentary: Carbonell nominations for 2008 announced

Tom Kenaston and Beth Dimon in Souvenir, from Palm Beach Dramaworks.

By Hap Erstein

While most of the country puzzles over the upcoming Academy Awards, the local theater community is busy analyzing the nominations for the Carbonell Awards, which honor excellence in theater at South Florida’s professional companies during the 2008 calendar year.

Announced today, they come after a contentious fall season in which the administering board of directors attempted to suspend operations after a higher-than-usual level of grumbling from theater companies over underrecognized productions and the credentials of the judging and nominating panels.

So with the nominations now public knowledge, let the grousing begin anew. That is, after all, the divisive nature of awards.

Surely Palm Beach Dramaworks, the still relatively new and small West Palm Beach troupe, must be pleased that they received more Carbonell nominations than any company in the three-county area. Six of its 15 nominations went to the play-with-music Souvenir, the story of tone-deaf Florence Foster Jenkins, who bought her way to fame and a concert at Carnegie Hall.

It will be competing for the best play production of the year, with additional nominations for its two cast members (Beth Dimon and Tom Kenaston), director (J. Barry Lewis), costumes (Erin Amico) and sound (Steve Shapiro). Its six nominations puts Souvenir just behind Mosaic Theatre’s The Seafarer for most mentions for a play: The Seafarer got seven.

Draamworks also pulled in six nominations for its production of Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs. The two plays will be going head-to-head for the top Carbonell, along with The Seafarer, Florida Stage’s Dirty Business and The Naked Stage’s 4.48 Psychosis.

Dirty Business, William Mastrosimone’s none-too-veiled biography of JFK and his mob connections was also nominated for best new work and for actor Gordon McConnell. In the new work category -- open only to world premieres -- it will be up against four scripts from Coral Gables’ New Theatre. They are Lauren Feldman’s Fill Our Mouths, Michelle Rosemary’s The Gates of Choice, Jules Tasca’s The Mission, and Andre Case’s The Rant.

It is interesting to note that these four New Theatre plays got no other nominations, a suggestion that the judges -- OK, I happen to be one -- liked the writing, but not the productions.

This is the first year in quite a while -- sorry, I don’t do research -- that GableStage is not up for best play production and its artistic director Joe Adler is not up for best director of a play. Most of its hopes for Carbonell statuettes rest on its rare production of a musical, The Adding Machine, an adaptation of Elmer Rice’s cautionary tale of automation.

It will be vying for 11 awards: best musical production, director/musical (Adler), lead actors Oscar Cheda and Maribeth Graham, supporting actors Jim Ballard and Stacy Schwartz, musical direction (Eric Alsford), choreography (Ron Headrick), lighting (Jeff Quinn), costumes (Ellis Tillman) and sound (Shapiro).

It’s closest competition is the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s The Full Monty, which received eight nominations, the entire total for the company. The Maltz has won the best musical production Carbonell for the past two years. It goes for a three-peat, along with nods for director (Alan Souza), actor (Gavin Lodge), supporting actress (Mimi Hines), musical direction (Helen Gregory), choreography (Ron de Jesus), sets (Michael Philippi) and lighting (Donald Thomas). Also scoring eight nominations, including best musical, is Actors’ Playhouse’s 1776.

Boca Raton’s Caldwell Theatre pulled in six nominations among three productions. Its She Loves Me was cited for three supporting performers (Oscar Cheda, Bruce Linser and Laura Hodos), Pete ‘N’ Keely was singled out for actress Connie SaLoutos and choreographer Barbara Flaten, and Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh will compete for its costume design (T. Michael Hall).

Other stray footnotes on the nominations:

* Bruce Adler was nominated posthumously for his leading performance in New Vista’s I’m Not Rappaport, the company’s only nomination.

* Gordon McConnell, who keeps insisting that he does not believe in competitive awards for actors, was nominated twice, for performances at Florida Stage (Dirty Business) and GableStage (Blackbird).

* That’s good, but costume designer Ellis Tillman and sound designer Steve Shapiro each pulled in three nominations. Tillman was cited for 1776, Adding Machine and Summer Shorts. Shapiro’s three are Adding Machine, The Chairs and Souvenir.

* Miami’s Mad Cat Theatre got shut out of nominations, but its artistic director Paul Tei was named for his direction of 4.48 Psychosis at The Naked Stage.

* By county, the breakdown of nominations was Miami-Dade (42), Palm Beach (38) and Broward (20).

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