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Theatre & Performance Toronto’s thriving theatre scene deserves a better Dora Awards

It's difficult to write a column about the Dora Mavor Moore Awards, the annual theatre, dance and opera awards that take place at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto on Monday, without it turning into a rant.

This year, however, it's downright impossible, as Canada's largest theatre scene is growing in stature and influence in the world – and, darn it, deserves a celebration that isn't marred by confounding categories and too many divisions for anyone outside of the industry to make heads or tails of.

In a season where shows birthed in Toronto were honoured with everything from Tony Awards in New York (Irene Sankoff and David Hein's Come From Away) to Olivier Awards in London (Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young's Bettroffenheit), the relative lack of buzz surrounding the Doras – even within the local theatre community – is hard to ignore.

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The overly inclusive Doras' problems are well known: Why are there no supporting-actor categories? What the heck are the six ensemble awards actually for? If three scripts are deemed "outstanding new play" each year, do any of their wins make a sound?

But at least the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, which runs the awards, is acknowledging that they are dysfunctional. Just four years after it unveiled a rethink of the awards that, in many ways, made them more confusing, TAPA announced that it is returning to the drawing board this fall with a new Dora review.

While we await for sanity to prevail (don't hold your breath), there are a few places where the performing arts awards got it right this year, despite their flaws.

In the general theatre division, the contenders for outstanding production of a play are an excellent representation of the strong 2016-17 theatre season.

It's a testament to Soulpepper's muscle that, with many ineligible remounts (as the company prepared for a residency in New York that starts July 1), the theatre still picked up a leading 23 Dora nominations.

Father Comes Home From the Wars (Part I, II and III) and Incident at Vichy – two productions of American plays by masters present (Suzan Lori-Parks) and past (Arthur Miller) – are both deservedly up for outstanding production of a play.

These Soulpepper shows were creatively and effectively directed by Weyni Mengesha and Alan Dilworth, respectively – who will wrestle one another in the outstanding-direction category. (Where I'll be rooting for Factory Theatre's Nina Lee Aquino – who gave David Yee's acquiesce the thoughtful production every new play deserves.)

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These two large ensemble dramas at Soulpepper have strong competition from director Phil Akin's masterful production of Athol Fugard's three-hander "Master Harold"… and the Boys for Obsidian Theatre.

And I wouldn't be surprised if the small-but-mighty Mouthpiece, Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken's two-hander about a woman struggling to write the eulogy for her mother's funeral, sneaked between them all to grab the Dora for outstanding production of a play. (Jodie Foster, who saw the show on a trip to Toronto, found it so outstanding that she recently flew it to Los Angeles for two private performances.)

I'd be hard pressed to choose in a four-way race between these great shows – and so I'm going into Monday's ceremony cheering for the fifth contender: Body Politic, Nick Green's new play for Buddies in Bad Times that dramatizes the history of the influential Canadian queer magazine of the same name. I missed it when it premiered last June during the Stratford Festival's opening week – and so I'm hoping a win might spur a remount.

The only real disappointment in the general theatre division is that several strong contenders for outstanding production were not up for consideration. Robert Lepage's exquisite autobiographical show, 887, was only eligible for outstanding touring production – despite the fact it had its world premiere here at the Pan Am Games and was co-commissioned by Canadian Stage.

Meanwhile, Why Not Theatre's presentation of Butcher as part of the Off-Mirvish season chose not to be considered again this year. Nicolas Billon's thriller was considered in the independent division last year for an earlier run at the Theatre Centre – but then, so was Mouthpiece. That kind of inconsistency makes it hard for the Doras to be viewed as definitive in any way.

Perhaps most unfortunately, True Crime – Stars front man Torquil Campbell's one-man show about his obsession with an American con man – didn't get its paperwork in on time. The January opening of Crow's Theatre's new space in Toronto's east end was the major story of the season – and it's too bad the best show to premiere there is not in the Dora conversation.

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