Actor Alon Nashman’s work bore amazing fruit (left, photo by Susan King). And this was Raven Dauda’s breakout year (right, photo by Steven Payne).
Actors who captured emotional truths, playwrights who moved into the director's chair and designers whose soundscapes added a dimension to some pretty remarkable stories lit up Toronto stages with their remarkable work.
1. ALON NASHMAN
Theatre is about touching the audience's heart, and no actor understands that better than Nashman. This year he played an emotionally involved political mole (Democracy) and an angelic innocent (Alias Godot), reprised his solo performance in the modern fairy tale Alphonse and, as a word-mangling lawyer, injected moving comedy into the remount of Scorched.
2. WEYNI MENGESHA
Soulpepper Academy grad Mengesha helmed a warm, poignant production of A Raisin In The Sun, adding a vital multicultural note to the company's programming. Skilfully blending visuals and emotions, she also helped shape collective creations Blink and The Taxi Project, won the Toronto Arts Council Foundation's emerging artist award and recently became one of the Young Centre's resident artists.
3. PETER HINTON
The National Art Centre's Hinton gave audiences some of 2008's best theatre, including a bright, brittle, hysterically funny yet touching production of The Way Of The World and two Stratford shows: a take on The Taming Of The Shrew that didn't have viewers cringing in the final scene and Hinton's own Shakespeare's Universe (Her Infinite Variety), a look at women in the Bard's world.
4. RICK ROBERTS
Often cast as the boy next door, Roberts went in other directions with two fine roles this year. He played Fire's secretly power-hungry televangelist and the initially innocent playwright Racine in Molière, whose victory over his rival places him, ironically, in artistic hell. As playwright, Roberts also scored in a remount of The Gladstone Variations.
5. NICOLA LIPMAN
Lipman understands that theatrical power doesn't always need top volume. In The December Man, she played a mother whose son bears psychic scars of the Montreal Massacre; in Scorched, she was one of three actors playing a woman whose rediscovery of her lost son leads to tragedy. Superb in both, Lipman pulled the audience into the world of the plays.
6. MIKE SHARA
Toronto audiences finally got to see the many artistic sides of the talented Shaw Festival regular. As the witty Mirabell, Shara added sexy sizzle to the Restoration comedy The Way Of The World opposite Caroline Cave's Millamant, tickled our funny-bone in The Real Inspector Hound and Black Comedy and gave a beating heart to It's A Wonderful Life.
7. THOMAS RYDER PAYNE
Dance Of The Red Skirts, Alias Godot, My Fellow Creatures, The Beauty Salon, If We Were Birds, Khalida and Madre, the last of which won him a Dora. Payne must have cloned himself to work on all these and other productions in one year. But providing quality as well as quantity, he helped define the unique essence of each show.
8. RAVEN DAUDA
It's proved to be Dauda's breakout year. She scored in two lead roles, bringing sureness and sensitivity to an innocent seamstress who discovers inner strength in Intimate Apparel, and showing us the inner tension of a character unsure of whether she wants to run solo or be in a relationship with another woman in Wild Dogs.
9. DAVE CARLEY
This year Carley stretched his theatrical skills, writing clever libretti for Opera On The Rocks and Opera To Go that included a seductive recitation of the Toronto Maple Leafs roster and a rock-star cardiac surgeon. We also saw a remount of the satiric Conservatives In Love and Carley's directing debut in an updated version of his emotionally incisive Taking Liberties.
10. CARLA HUHTANEN
Forget the stereotype that opera singers merely stand and deliver. Huhtanen regularly proved that her acting chops were as strong as her singing, and this year she showed off her skills in a variety of roles in Opera To Go and Opera On The Rocks as well as stealing the spotlight in Mozart's Abduction From The Seraglio.