1. michelle polak (Christmas At The Ivanovs; Martian Summer; Roundabout; Inertia (Phase Two); A Midsummer Night's Dream; Little Dragon; Machin-E; Two Words) Good thing Michelle Polak is in great shape -- her energy has ignited eight productions this year. And we're not just talkin' quantity here. Polak knows how to use physicality, emotion and nuanced subtext to create a variety of characters, from the young, troubled figures in Roundabout and Martian Summer to a bizarre Chekhov sibling in Inertia (Phase Two) and an aikido-trained, klezmer-hiphop devotee in Little Dragon. Highlights? Her funny, athletic Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Two Words' beaten-down, powerless Juana La Triste, whom Polak defines with a single word of text.
2. ben clost (Road; The Beaux' Stratagem; Machinal; A Midsummer Night's Dream; I Am Yours) He's an incendiary performer who's not even a year out of theatre school. Clost first presented his gilt-edged dramatic calling card at George Brown, balancing text and emotion with admirable skill in contemporary and period works. Over the summer he was a splendidly energetic, playful Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and he capped off the year with a firebrand performance as a love-obsessed handyman in I Am Yours.Krucker is a unique performer, a singing actor with an incredible range both in her notes and her emotions. Who else can deliver a phrase as sweet as honey, then switch instantly to a raw growl of pain?
3. david storch (The Lonesome West; A Chorus Of Disapproval; The Winter's Tale) Always a bright light onstage, Storch is one of those chameleon-like actors who fully wears a character's skin. He began the year with a Dora-winning turn as troubled Father Welsh, always in a crisis of faith, in The Lonesome West. He joined Soulpepper for The Winter's Tale, in which he gave extra ebullience to the roguish Autolycus, and superbly captured the ingenuous Guy, who bumbles his way in a community-theatre show from spear-carrier to leading man, in A Chorus Of Disapproval.
4. mary francis moore (Grendelmaus; Top Gun! The Musical; Going For Groceries; One Good Marriage That One, That One) Moore's grounded, warm performances are always a pleasure -- even when she's being a manipulative bitch, like the unusual role she played in Top Gun! The Musical. Earlier in the year she delighted us as an ex-aerial artist forced from her shy suitor by a demonic rodent in Grendelmaus. She juggled dual duties during SummerWorks -- directing the bittersweet mother/daughter show Going For Groceries and performing as half of a touchy, mysterious newlywed couple in the darkly comic One Good Marriage That One, That One.
5. Bluemouth inc. (Something About A River, Part One: The Fire Sermon; Lenz) Memories of staging tricks are often what audiences retain from interdisciplinary performances. Bluemouth -- Stephen O'Connell, Sabrina Reeves, Lucy Simic and Richard Windeyer -- delivers the entire package, complete with story, characters and most importantly, emotion. In The Fire Sermon, set in a porn cinema and the first part of a trilogy, and later -- superbly -- in Lenz, played out in various hotel rooms, the company kept surprising and mesmerizing viewers.
6. christopher morris (Road; Mojo; The Winter's Tale; A Chorus Of Disapproval; The Play About The Baby; I Am Yours) Morris, whose artistry just keeps growing, is back on my top-10 list. He anchored Road as the show's scabrous, alcoholic narrator and then spent the summer with Soulpepper, most memorably in The Play About The Baby, as a joyfully sexual guy who may or may not have fathered a child. But it was his first shot at directing -- in the striking, in-your-face I Am Yours -- that gave his theatre work a new dimension.
7. fides krucker (The Girl With No Door On Her Mouth; Trousseau-True Nature; A Little Rain Never Hurt No One)
8. lorenzo savoini (Road; Mojo; High-Gravel-Blind; Eternal Hydra; Bereav'd Of Light; The Fellini Radio Plays; Walk Right Up; Shadows) Set designer Savoini sure knows how to juggle the real and unreal onstage. He began the year by creating an environmental design for Road that suggested an asphalt volcano had erupted into the playing space, and followed it up by giving Mojo a magical touch, complete with a tiny Alice-In-Wonderland door in act one and a wide-open world in act two. Savoini was the first set designer to work in Stratford's Studio Theatre, where he blended everyday elements with surreal touches on the mini-thrust stage.
9. karen robinson (The Eternal Hydra; Shadows) OK, so why did Stratford audiences get to see the luminous Karen Robinson this year and we didn't? (The same can be said for Diane D'Aquila, but that's another story.) It's always hard to watch anyone else onstage when Robinson's acting, not because she's stealing focus but because she's so good. This year she treated us to a trio of roles, as both a successful, sharp-edged author and a tantalizing artiste noire in the richly textured Eternal Hydra, and a sassy actor in Shadows, Timothy Findley's last play. More Toronto work, please.
10. eddie glen (The Mackenzie/Papineau Rebellion; Snappy Tales) She dazzled us with modern music in The Girl With No Door On Her Mouth, mined the richness of cabaret, pop and show tunes in A Little Rain Never Hurt No One and perked up the troubled collective Trousseau-True Nature with her vocal talents. It'd be a shame to forget comic performers who exult in the ridiculousness of their roles. One of the best we've got is Eddie Glen, who in The Mackenzie/Papineau Rebellion tweaked all the humour in one of our more serious historic figures, the politicized newspaperman William Lyon Mackenzie, complete with cherubic face and helmet of red hair. Glen later gave a comic goose to a number of bright portraits -- most notably a twitchy scientist with scary mental powers -- in Snappy Tales. email@example.com
Think all the brightest theatre stars shine in New York and London? Toronto stage artists light up the sky just as impressively, and this year proves the range of their talents in classics, new pieces and works that push the performance envelope.