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Arts & Entertainment

Best Actress in a Play 

Colleen M. Backer

Who says the Best Actress has to be in a leading role? Two years ago at the inaugural Kevin Kline Awards, the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play may well have been the most competitive category of the night. Teresa Doggett, Michelle Hand, Liz Hopefl, Rory Lipede, Magan Wiles and winner Brooke Edwards were all worthy contenders. Collectively they reminded us of the depth of this town's female acting pool. And why does the Best Actress have to perform in some heavy-breathing drama? Without question, the most intriguing performance in recent memory was delivered by Colleen M. Backer in the spirited Stray Dog Theatre retelling of the 1930s romp You Can't Take It With You. As written on the page — and as performed for the past 70 years — Essie is little more than a thin branch on the colorful Sycamore family tree. She's an incompetent dancer who's primarily there to move the exposition along. But as performed by Backer, whose spasmodic vocal delivery mirrored her rubber legs, Essie became the evening's conscience. (A farce with a conscience? That's different.) Backer charmed us, and she also helped us to view this old chestnut of a play in a completely new way. How rare is that? Very.

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