Monday, December 31, 2007

SOB's 7 Singular Sensations Of '07 - #1: Deanna Dunagan

SOB's 7 Singular Sensations Of '07 - #1: Deanna Dunagan

Introduction: While others use the end of the year to provide their lists of the top shows of the past year, here at Steve On Broadway (SOB), I wait until the conclusion of the entire Theatrical Season to provide my official tally.

Instead, I'm once again devoting the waning days of the calendar year to celebrate SOB's Singular Sensations -- those magical live performances that have stayed with me throughout the year. During 2007, I have enjoyed, been wowed and ultimately inspired by a dazzling display of excellent performances from some of the theatre world's best actors, singers and dancers of our time.

Once in a lifetime, a stage turn comes along that is so important, so real, so vital and so intoxicating that you want to urge every last person you know to catch it. In August: Osage County -- by far, the best stage production I've seen all year -- Deanna Dunagan has seemingly come out of far left field to offer up one of those rarest of performances and then some. Really.

While Broadway is absolutely agog (and rightly so) over this new "discovery," the truth is, Dunagan has long been considered one of Chicago's finest actresses. In fact, she has even been been recognized with two Joseph Jefferson Awards (the Jeffs are to Chicago theatre what the Tony is to Broadway) -- one of those two honors came this past October for her excellent work on the Steppenwolf stage as Violet Weston in August: Osage County.

My first opportunity to see Dunagan came in 2003. The actress was part of the ensemble for the Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical Bounce when it premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. Talk about versatility.

In my August review of her extraordinary current play, I noted that:

August: Osage County centers on a heavy-drinking poet Beverly Weston (Dennis Letts, the playwright's father, in a subtle poignant portrayal who haunts the play long after his lone appearance) and his venomous drug-addled wife Violet (a breathtakingly potent Deanna the single most important performance I've seen yet this year).

Despite Violet's often delusory state, she manages to retain an iron grip on the roost, lording over her three daughters.
Violet's tentacles also suck in her own seemingly clueless sister Mattie Fay (
Rondi Reed in a delectable departure from portraying Madame Morrible in Chicago's Wicked) and her husband Charlie (a wonderfully obtuse Francis Guinan).

My first twinge in realizing just how excellent this production would be was in the opening scene. Beverly is not so much interviewing Johnna (
Kimberly Guerrerro), a mysterious young native American woman, for a housekeeping position as much as he's preparing her for the tumult she's about to face in the wake of his departure. He's long-since resigned to losing his battle with the bottle and his wife's addictions to the many drugs she takes, yet he wants to leave Violet in caring hands. During their conversation, Violet makes her first incoherent drug-hazed entrance, and it becomes clear that Johnna will have her hands full.
What an entrance that was. Once Dunagan was on the stage, I couldn't take my eyes off her.

When August: Osage County was about to open, I wrote:

Deanna Dunagan in particular offers perhaps the single most important Broadway debut in recent memory. Her performance will surely be recalled as one of the best on the boards in years.
Not surprising, the critics were equally enamored with her breakthrough performance. Even though Dunagan is an intrinsic part of one of the most amazing ensembles on Broadway in years, like castmate Amy Morton, she is one singular sensation I've been truly fortunate to see.

Here's toasting you, Deanna Dunagan!

Happy New Year!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
SOB's Singular Sensations Of '07 - Honorable Mentions (December 31, 2007)
SOB's 7 Singular Sensations Of '07 - #2: Christine Ebersole (December 30, 2007)
SOB's 7 Singular Sensations Of '07 - #3: Amy Morton (December 29, 2007)
SOB's 7 Singular Sensations Of '07 - #4: Elena Roger (December 28, 2007)
SOB's 7 Singular Sensations Of '07 - #5: Raúl Esparza (December 28, 2007)
SOB's 7 Singular Sensations Of '07 - #6: John Gallagher, Jr. (December 28, 2007)
SOB's 7 Singular Sensations Of '07 - #7: Jennifer Holliday (December 27, 2007)
August: Osage County (The SOB Review) (August 19, 2007)
SOB's 6 Singular Sensations Of '06 - #1: Patti LuPone (December 30, 2006)
Honorable Mentions: SOB's Singular Sensations Of '06 (December 30, 2006)
SOB's 6 Singular Sensations Of '06 - #2: Cate Blanchett (December 30, 2006)
SOB's 6 Singular Sensations Of '06 - #3: Chita Rivera (December 29, 2006)
SOB's 6 Singular Sensations Of '06 - #4: Barry Humphries (December 28, 2006)
SOB's 6 Singular Sensations Of '06 - #5: Kitty Carlisle Hart (December 28, 2006)
SOB's 6 Singular Sensations Of '06 - #6: Meryl Streep (December 26, 2006)

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At 31 December, 2007, Blogger Esther said...

You're absolutely right. From the moment she comes staggering down the staircase of that amazing set, Deanna Dunagan is spellbinding. You just can't wait to hear what she's going to say next.

She's such a venomous and controlling and sad figure. It's really an amazing performance. Tracy Letts has said that he based the character of Violet Weston on his maternal grandmother, and when he showed the play to his mother, she said "You've been awfully kind." I can't even imagine what his grandmother must have been like!

And you're right that Dunagan has hardly come out of left field. It makes me realize what great talent there is in the heartland.

(I probably should have made Dunagan's entrance one of my top theatrical moments. But everyone in "August: Osage County" is great. In addition to Dunagan and Amy Morton, I love the banter between Rondi Reed and Francis Guinan).

At 31 December, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, You know I love the entire ensemble, too. But in my mind, performances just don't get any better than Deanna Dunagan's. This is why I love theatre so much!

At 31 December, 2007, Anonymous Shaun S. said...

If she doesn't win the Tony, Broadway should be shut down. It doesn't get better than this.

At 31 December, 2007, Blogger jan@broadwayandme said...

It's a great #1 choice, Steve. So, a toast to Ms. Dunagan. And a toast to you too. Here's wishing her, you and all of us theater lovers a great 2008.

At 31 December, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Shaun, Sounds like we're in agreement over who should win the Tony!

At 31 December, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Jan, Glad you liked the choice.

Happy New Year to you, Broadway and me!

At 01 January, 2008, Blogger SarahB said...

AMEN AND AMEN! Just give Deanna the Tony already! And if producers aren't busy scheming new BROADWAY productions for her already I'd be surprised. Don't let this gem return to Chicago. New York needs her. And, I am heartened that there are afterall a few good things that come out of West Texas - she grew up 26 miles from my hometown.

At 01 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Happy New Year, Sarah. At least now you know that the dynamic Deanna Dunagan's range also extends to Stephen Sondheim!


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