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Toronto theatre critics name their favourites of the year

Kate Besworth as Thomasina Coverly and Gray Powell as Septimus Hodge in Arcadia.

David Cooper

The curtain is falling on the Toronto 2014-15 theatre season, but before the Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations get announced next week, the city's critics want to get a final word in.

Spoon River, Arcadia and Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play were the best shows of the season, according to the fifth annual Toronto Theatre Critics Awards (TTCAs), which my colleagues and I announced at a minute past midnight on Wednesday.

Spoon River, Mike Ross's soulful song setting of the 100-year-old Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, was chosen as best musical, with Albert Schultz named best director of a musical for his eerie, immersive production. That's two award-worthy years in a row for Soulpepper's artistic director, who was named best director of a play for his work on Of Human Bondage in 2014.

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When it came to best production of a play, we critics were, uncharacteristically, indecisive. And we split the honour between a pair of smart shows: Arcadia, the Tom Stoppard play about poetry and entropy brought to Mirvish Productions from the Shaw Festival; and Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, American playwright Anne Washburn's peek at a dystopian future where The Simpsons becomes high art, still onstage in the east end care of immersive indie innovators Outside the March.

Mr. Burns picked up a second award – for best design. Nick Blais (lighting), Ken Mackenzie (set), Lindsay Junkin (costumes), Sam Sholdice (sound) and Marcus Jamin (puppets) will all get a certificate at our ceremony on June 8 at the Spoke Club – though they may have to split a drink ticket so we don't blow our budget.

When it came to best new Canadian play, Quebec's Michel Marc Bouchard got the nod for his poetic thriller Tom at the Farm, which played at Buddies in Bad Times in April.

It was an impressive season for new writing by Torontonian twentysomethings (Kat Sandler's Retreat; Jordan Tannahill's Concord Floral), who shun or are shunned by the city's traditional new-writing houses, but as a group we decided to honour a veteran playwright writing as well or better than ever right now.

American playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis's profane take on addicts and love – The Motherfucker with the Hat – was selected as best new (to Toronto) international play. It received a better-than-Broadway production at the new Coal Mine Theatre on the Danforth last fall – in which the Stratford Festival's Juan Chioran stole the show as a juice-loving Jean-Claude Van Damme fan. Chioran was a lock for the best supporting actor in a play award.

Best direction of a play went to Modern Times Stage Company's Soheil Parsa for his expressionistic take on Federico Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding. Beatriz Pizano, who was riveting as The Mother in that play, won for best supporting actress.

Best actress in a play went to national treasure Fiona Reid, for her hilarious turn in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Mirvish/Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre); and David Ferry was named best actor for his turn as a pedophile hunted down by his prey in Blackbird (FilmBooth Productions). (This is Ferry's second TTCA – he won in 2011 playing another sexual predator in Blasted.)

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When it came to musicals, the four acting prizes went to performers in three different shows.

Daren A. Herbert and Susan Gilmour were named best actor and best supporting actress for their sizzling performances in vaudevillian nightmare The Wild Party (Acting Up Stage Company and Obsidian Theatre).

Trish Lindstrom was named best actress for her heart-wrenching turn as Girl in Mirvish's production of Once (on until the end of June). And Jacob MacInnis was named best supporting actor for his performance as an endlessly entertaining earthworm in James and the Giant Peach at Young People's Theatre.

This is the first year that the critics from the online-only publication Torontoist have joined the ones from The Globe and Mail, the National Post, Now Magazine and the Toronto Star in picking the winners.

And there are a couple of shows I wish we'd had more awards to give to: Soulpepper's production of Tartuffe was the kind of adventurous tackling of a classic I always hunger for; and Canadian Stage's multimedia Helen Lawrence was the kind of big, risk-taking endeavour I'd like to see more of. The latter, by the way, just announced a U.S. premiere – the production is part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's prestigious Next Wave Festival in October. All in all, Toronto theatre is in not too shabby a shape, looking back over the past 12 months.

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About the Author
Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More

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