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Chekhov used to say, I have my own theater, and people assumed he was talking about the Moscow Art Theatre, but then Chekhov would tap his forehead and say, . . . in here.

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May Satellite/Theater

By Shamrock McShane

Process, Not Product

It is the creative process that matters most to an artist, not the product, because getting there isn't just half the fun – it's all there is.

So there was something of consternation in Catherine Fries Vaughn's glance when she looked up and saw me plop down next to director Mary Hausch in the Hippodrome's rehearsal room with my composition book.

"Oh, we have an audience."

It was two full weeks before Horton Foote's The Carpetbagger's Children would open, and this was to be a "work-through" with actors still calling for lines and experimenting with characters. It wasn't judgment day yet.

The other actors – Sara Morsey and Nell Page – knowing my preference for process over product, were reassuring however, and we all settled into work.

Sara, who plays the eldest of the carpetbagger's children, plunged into the play like a bird taking wing. Her lyrical Southern cadences caressed the sibilance in a line like "She was always so sweet," turning something so simple into mystical beauty.

As the puckish middle sister, Nell is strikingly different in approach – partly because Horton Foote has shaped her character thus, partly because Nell's instrument is in a different key and her manner of playing here is chameleon, turning monologue into dialogue as she peoples the story she tells.

Finally the scene shifts to Catherine as the youngest, and she matches music to monologue, song to speech, before her vulnerability ventures forth. Horton Foote's subtle mastery of plot wedded to character irresistibly draws us together. It is a gift.

And now it goes on giving, so, here is my chance to give back.

Return of the Shammies

The Shamrock Awards for Excellence in Local Theater were last awarded in 2001. The following year the "tragedy" of 9-11 overshadowed the theater. Theaters that were committed to their subscription season put on especially and unintentionally ghoulish Halloween plays, followed by perversely joyful Christmas plays, all ending with summer fluff. And then the MOON went down and the Shammies had no forum. But, "They're back."

Here's what happened in the 2001-2002 theater season, so we can move on to 2003.

At the Hippodrome, Dinner with Friends, with Nell Page and Gregg Jones conjured some very plausible marital discord, giving us the assurance that comes from listening to people who know what they're talking about.

In Misery, Sara Morsey played Steven King-style, aiming at surrealism, before an outer world numb with surreal reality.

Closer seemed particularly scurvy in light of current events and brought out the reactionaries among Hipp subscribers. But best of all, were the projections used during a lascivious email scene. It shone a beacon onto the possibilities for epic theater.

Anne Frank, predictably but for the most part honestly, struck a seemingly appropriate reverential tone, finally.

Proof was brain candy.

Honky Tonk Angels has already had its reward, a full summer feasting at the box office.

That's just the Equity warp-up this time.

Now to hand out the prizes.

Best Play?

That's a tough one. I'd be inclined to say there has been none of sufficient merit here since 9-11. Albee comes close with The Play About the Baby, but he's starting to look not a little like Tennessee Williams in his twilight years, his plays increasingly abstract and haunted by chimeras.

For excellence in two-handed playing, our best doubles teams are Gregg Jones and Nell Page in Dinner with Friends and Sara Morsey and David Shelton in The Play About the Baby.

For superior atmospherics and a glimpse into the future: Bobby Robbins, the Hipp's lighting wizard.

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like

As for individual performances, allow me to retreat to 2001 to remember Lauren Caldwell when she last appeared in Tuna Christmas, bereft of the inimitable Mark Chambers who would return the following Yule but in the wrong vehicle, the snotty Santa Land Diaries. Lauren carried the show, reminding us that her mercurial talents are neither limited to directing nor quantifiable. The same devilishness that she exhibited in Tuna informed the directorial choices of the modern satyr play she made of Bat Boy this season, for which she also merits a Shammy.

As does Mary Hausch as a director who elicits honest portrayals from her actors and aims at a sublime naturalism, witness, quintessentially, plays as different as Gross Indecency, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Proof, and the not to be missed Carpetbagger's Children which promises a treatise on Southern with the accent on treat.

For A Christmas Carol, I bequeath a Shamrock to Rusty Salling, who would confound Ebenezer Scrooge because this fine actor owns him.

Acting, Directing, Being

Alvarez, gets an acting Shammy (chamois) for her star turn in the Acrosstown's Cabaret.

So does Julie Tidwell for Thursday Afternoon Productions' The Shape of Things.

The best performance of all, however, was undoubtedly by Scot Davis in Suckerfish at the Acrosstown.

I'll tell you how good Scot was: Better than me. And Suckerfish was about as good as I have ever been. I fell into the part of someone that finds himself on the streets, and just kept falling. I didn't know if I'd ever hit bottom. I was floating. It was that rare and wished-for occasion where you do not think of the lines, they just come to you. And all the while, Scot was up ahead, living his hour.

Playing Homeless in Suckerfish Scot Davis brought to the role not just a wealth of experience but a wealth of blessed inexperience, a positive lack of a silver spoon or wall-to-wall carpeting or even three squares. He was the genuine article, the true gen.

You had to be there (that's live theater for you), and we only did two performances, but if you were in the audience or, even better, onstage, you'd know with bone-solid surety that you were witnessing life.

Props and a directing Shammy (chamois) to Will Eyerly for his gentle promptings as the director of Suckerfish and the insights we all gained through his implementation of the Whalen rehearsal technique, in which the actors never set foot onstage with a script.

Hurt the People

Jessica Arnold wins a directorial Shamrock not just for directing America's New War Strikes Back! but for the singular cultural earthquake she herself has titled Ground Zero at the Palace. It happened the night of September 11, 2002, when we performed the play for the last time and the gathered faux-patriots were given a dose of free speech they couldn't stomach.

Pleasure and pain can be the same thing. As a theatrician, I live by the words Hurt the People. My purpose is to inflict psychical pain.

Jessica Arnold is part of a proud tradition that can be traced directly to Antonin Artaud and his Theatre of Cruelty.

Being directed by Jess, I can attest, is a painful experience. She makes you feel awkward, out of place, tentative, and then proceeds to reward boldness and impetuosity. She seems to make it up as she goes along and generally deports herself like a dominatrix.

In short, she's perfect.

We would never have been at the Palace had it not been for Jess.

To Jess, for taking a play somewhere that not only had plays never been before but it's doubtful a play should have been there at all, at least not this one.

Our Number One Song – "All About Me"

What I seem to be saying, as perhaps you have intuited, is that the best artistic experiences you can have are the ones you participate in. Everyone must dance. If you want to love it more for all time, join in, if only for a moment. One moment can be all.