The Toronto 2019-2020 theatre season may have come to an abrupt end in March – but the Toronto Theatre Critics Awards, which celebrate the best work on stage in Canada’s biggest city, were announced on schedule on Wednesday morning.
Obsidian Theatre, a black-focused theatre that has a long and impressive track record of artistic excellence, was the most lauded company this season, its productions picking up five awards in total – two of which were specifically for its departing artistic director Philip Akin.
In a first in the 10-year history of the TTCAs, Akin tied with himself in the voting for best director – and so will receive one award for his work on Actually (Anna Ziegler’s campus drama about consent co-produced with the Harold Green Jewish Theatre) and another for his work on Pass Over (Antoinette Nwandu’s poetric riff on Waiting for Godot tackling police brutality and systemic racism).
The three-person ensemble of Pass Over (Kaleb Alexander, Mazin Elsadig and Alex McCooeye) received an award as well, while the R&B singer Jully Black and Stratford Festival regular Vanessa Sears won best performance and best supporting performance in a musical, respectively, playing mother and daughter in the civil rights-era Caroline, or Change (co-produced with Musical Stage Company at the Winter Garden this winter).
Chilina Kennedy, the Canadian Broadway star, was awarded best performance in a musical along with Black for her slow-burning turn in the Israel-set musical The Band’s Visit, which was presented on tour by David Mirvish. (Since discontinuing gender-based awards last year, the TTCAs now declare anywhere from one to three winners in the acting categories.)
Though it was only visiting Toronto, The Band’s Visit made a major impact on the TTCA jurors – and was named best production of a musical.
In addition to acting, Kennedy co-runs Eclipse Theatre Company, a new Toronto producer of musical theatre. Its co-production with Crow’s Theatre of composer Dave Malloy’s mysterious Ghost Quartet received two awards – best ensemble performance in a musical (for Beau Dixon, Hailey Gillis, Kira Guloien and Andrew Penner) and best direction of a musical (for Marie Farsi).
Thanks to another tie, the Irish theatre artist Conor McPherson also won best direction of a musical for his work on the outside-the-jukebox Bob Dylan musical Girl From the North Country, which he co-wrote and Mirvish Productions presented in Toronto.
Outside the March and Crow’s Theatre’s worth-the-wait (and worth-the-length) production of American playwright Annie Baker’s three-hour-plus Pulitzer Prize-winning homage to cinema and those who work in them, The Flick, was named best production of a play. Its cast was given an ensemble award – and Baker’s script was named the best international play to premiere in Toronto this season. (This is Baker’s second TTCA in that category; she won in 2017 for John.)
Best leading performance in a play went to Daren A. Herbert, playing a death-row prisoner in Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train; and Amy Rutherford, for her performance as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. Both plays were produced at Soulpepper; neither has much to do with transit, despite their titles.
Best supporting performance in a play went to Sarah Dodd for her work on Coal Mine Theatre’s production of the American sci-fi dementia drama, Marjorie Prime.
Last but not least, The Jungle, co-written by Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie, was named best new Canadian play. Staged at the Tarragon Theatre, it is a potent Marxist polemic and realistic romance about a working-class Toronto couple struggling to get by in the precarious gig economy.
Like the award-winning Pass Over, it is a play that seems to be only more relevant now than it did when it was presented in the fall.
Toronto’s most prominent theatre critics – including The Globe and Mail’s Martin Morrow, Toronto Star’s Karen Fricker and Carly Maga and Now magazine’s Glenn Sumi – gathered on Zoom a few weeks ago to vote on the awards. (While I tuned in, I was not an official juror this year as I was on parental leave for what has now turned out to be the bulk of the season.)
The TTCAs will be broadcast for the first time on June 22 at 7 p.m. ET – on the YouTube page of the AFC (formerly the Actors’ Fund of Canada) in a ceremony that will double as a fundraiser for the charity.
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