Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Congratulations to James Ware and Kina Park!

On Sunday, the awards for the 2009 (inaugural) Planet Connections Festivity were announced, and COItc's production of Wrestling the Alligator took home three so-called "Planet Awards," most notably James Ware for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play and Kina Park for Outstanding Scenic Design.

James' electric performance of Professor Ron Smith was duly recognized and rewarded by the judges; he shared the distinction, co-winning with James Arden of the equally excellent festival production Monetizing Emma (directed by COItc Managing Director of Stage Leah Bonvissuto),proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that James is an award-winning name.

Regular attendees of our shows recognize that this is Kina's second tour with COItc, having designed the spectacular sets for James O'Connor's Timor Mortis at Shetler Studios in February—her design included the show-stopping Devil's Ten Commandments. The chaos of the festival setting forced her to make something ... somewhat different. (Other shows in the PCF watched our magical setup and strike with thinly veiled envy...)

James Ware as Professor Ron Smith

Wrestling the Alligator follows the small liberal arts college professor Ron Smith—an African-American Studies expert of notorious behavior and diminishing renown. Maurice, his graduate assistant, does his mentor’s work while propping up Smith’s flagging spirits. This delicate balance is upset when the professor invites his most vituperative critic—Emily, an undergraduate aspiring columnist—to his office. Their meeting spurs a chain reaction of revelation and betrayal that spirals beyond anyone’s control.

Amanda Nichols as Emily Paulson

nytheatre.com's Jo Ann Rosen was not necessarily a fan:

Burbank wastes no time in drawing a strong anti-hero who is smart, accomplished, verbally dexterous, and fatally flawed—a winning formula to captivate an audience. It is a shame, then, that the playwright loses his focus as the play progresses by wandering into additional territory that distracts from the play's strength.

The play takes place on a college campus, where Ron Smith, a confident and controversial professor of African American studies, walks a fine line between mentoring and abusing his teaching assistant, Maurice, who grades papers, provides student papers with constructive comments that should be written by Smith, and works on his thesis on which he awaits Smith's long-delayed approval. Their banter is interrupted by the arrival of Emily, a columnist for the student newspaper who has been maligning Smith for banning whites from his class. There's an immediate face-off, but it is a confrontation out of left field that introduces not one but two love stories, brings into question the identity of the white reporter, and debunks the accomplishments of Smith with an easy out: plagiarism.
Sergei Burbank and lighting designer Ryan Mueller shared the Congeniality Award with Teresa Fischer (By Special Arrangement), Nathaniel Kent (New Beulah), Duncan Pflaster (Suckers), and Rodney Reyes (Anonymous).

Wrestling the Alligator was also nominated in the following categories:

Outstanding Overall Production of a New Play
Outstanding Direction (Adam Karsten)
Outstanding Lighting Design (Ryan Mueller)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play (Sergei Burbank)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play (Amanda Nichols)
The Inaugural Planet Connections Festivity was an ambitious undertaking: not only did it seek theatrical projects that had an active opinion about politics and world affairs, each production was paired with a worthwhile charity to expand social action and engagement (COItc's production worked to raise funds for City Harvest).

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