Back in 2006, when I composed my first list of a dozen theatre "Essentials" - theatrical talents whose gifts were employed in a number of area productions - I couldn't have imagined that I'd find a dozen new names to add year after year. Well, as 2009 draws to a close, we can officially add another " ... after year" to that sentence.

My self-imposed parameters for recognition are simple: participation as performer or director in at least four local theatrical offerings, and with at least two different venues or companies. That latter qualification consequently precludes the inclusion of many exceptional summer-stock talents at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre and Timber Lake Playhouse, so permit me a quick "Huzzah!" to the Showboat's Claire Barnhart, Dale Hawes, Nicole Horton, Joshua Sohn, and Patrick Stinson, and Timber Lake's Jake Bollman, Jamie Finkenthal, Carl Hendin, Amanda Hendricks, Rod Lawrence, Phillip Newman, Eli Pauley, Sainty Reid, Thomas Stewart, Kyle Szen, and Justin Verstraete. (My summer was a blast - how 'bout yours?)

Yet even without those theatre artists in the running, it was - yet again - remarkably easy to find a dozen fresh names for "Essentials" inclusion this year. So, thanks to the following 12 for sharing so much of their time, talent, and love of the art with local audiences. (And thanks, too, to the folks at the Harrison Hilltop Theatre for including 10 of them in at least one of their 2009 productions.)


Dee Canfield in Trojan WomenDee Canfield

In the program for the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's production of The Mousetrap - which marked the actress' first stage appearance at Moline's Barn Theatre since 1983 - Canfield's biography states, "Now retired, she looks forward to pursuing her creative writing and more adventures on stage." I can't attest to how the writing is going, but as far as the stage adventures are concerned, mission accomplished, Dee! In addition to her hysterically haughty turn as Agatha Christie's doomed Mrs. Boyle, Canfield joined in the satiric merriment of Genesius Guild's Thesmophoriazusae, lent emotional richness and explosive sass to the Green Room Theatre's Steel Magnolias, and delivered a staggeringly fine performance in the Prenzie Players' Trojan Women; her dazzlingly interpreted rage and despair as Queen Hecuba seemed the very personification of Greek tragedy. If this is what retirement is like, I'm officially counting the days 'til my own.


Lisa Kahn, Dee Canfield, and Angela Elliott in Steel MagnoliasLisa Kahn

Playing Clairee to Dee Canfield's Ouiser in Steel Magnolias, Kahn offered a beguiling sweetness that nicely offset her acting partner's salt. But while Kahn is the possessor of an incredibly bright smile, 2009, happily, offered her the chance to do far more than beam. Her grin actually turned rather wicked for Harrison Hilltop's The Rocky Horror Show, and as one of the monologuing mothers in the venue's Birth, Kahn's businesswoman was comically matter-of-fact when describing her own childbirth plans: "No one was biting off my umbilical cord." (Admittedly, you maybe had to be there.) Meanwhile, at Playcrafters, the actress was a continual hoot as See How They Run's sensible yet silly Cockney maid. "The trouble wiv you, Ida," she said to her mirrored reflection, "is you 'aven't got no oomph." A funny moment, but an inaccurate one; in 2009, Kahn had oomph to spare.


Greg Golz, James Bleecker, and Mike Kelly in The GraduateMike Kelly

When he returned to the stage for Playcrafters' The Mousetrap, it had been 15 years since Kelly's last area-theatre appearance. Talk about making up for lost time! Following his turn as über-eccentric architect Christopher Wren, the actor ventured to the Harrison Hilltop, where he played an emotionally expressive - and unexpectedly ax-wielding - Mr. Robinson in The Graduate. Then Kelly traveled across town for three character parts in director Lora Adams' Village Theatre production of The Boys Next Door. Then it was back to Playcrafters, where he reprised his 1981 role as Vicar Lionel Toop for the theatre's See How They Run remount. And then, crossing the river once more, Kelly served as narrator for The Rocky Horror Show, overseeing the sci-fi shenanigans with imperiousness and a comically raised eyebrow. For all the mileage put on his car, 2009 found Kelly enjoying stage mileage to match.


Michael King in Henry the Sixth: Richard, Duke of YorkMichael King

Every summer, Genesius Guild crowds can count on Lincoln Park wonders from this sensational classical actor. So it was especially satisfying to see King's 2009 output begin outside of Lincoln Park, where his blind Tiberias in the Harrison Hilltop's Oedipus Rex provided Eddie Staver III's title character with a fiercely powerful, frighteningly antagonistic adversary. After that late-May production, however, King had no time to rest on his laurels; he directed the Guild's Hecuba with wit and panache, and was marvelous as Lord Talbot in Henry the Sixth: The Contention. Yet it was in Henry the Sixth's follow-up, Richard, Duke of York, that King found the true role of a lifetime; his portrayal of the psychologically and physically twisted Richard was deeply scary, queasily funny, and profoundly exhilarating. News that King will reprise the character for Genesius Guild's 2010 Richard III calls merely for a two-word response: Thank you.



Jackie Skiles and Molly McLaughlin in BusybodyMolly McLaughlin

Like Mike Kelly, the charming McLaughlin logged plenty of road miles during her 2009 theatrical pursuits, and wound up arriving in modernized ancient Greece and Shakespearean Sicily, mid-1960s London, and a present-day barn theatre - the latter both figuratively and literally. In May, McLaughlin took part in Harrison Hilltop's Oedipus Rex ensemble, and for the Prenzie Players' November presentation of The Winter's Tale portrayed a steward, a mariner, and a shepherdess - handily filling the "special skills" portion of her résumé in one fell swoop. Yet between these dramatic endeavors, McLaughlin had more chances to hone her comedic skills, with her portrayals of a grim secretary in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's Busybody, and a lunatic barn-theatre director in the Barn Theatre's Laughing Stock. "You're a wildebeest!" she shouted to her uncomprehending actors. You're a nut, we silently, happily replied.


Matt Mercer and Steve Quartell in Of Mice & MenMatt Mercer

St. Ambrose University's November theatre newsletter featured an update with recent graduate Mercer, whose stage year began when he sent a photo/résumé to the Riverbend Theatre Collective, in hopes of being cast in (the one male role in) Five Women Wearing the Same Dress. Mercer didn't get that part, but said the company promptly forwarded his info on to New Ground Theatre, where he did get cast - and cast well - in March's Cowbird. And the rest, as they say, is history. Following Cowbird, this focused, earnest, gifted performer appeared in Harrison Hilltop's Oedipus Rex, was wonderfully touching and funny in the Village Theatre's The Boys Next Door, and portrayed the iconic, slow-witted Lennie in Harrison Hilltop's Of Mice & Men with lovely, understated poignancy. A note to other young actors hoping to make their marks: Apply and audition for everything. As Mercer's 2009 proves, doing so frequently leads to wonderful opportunities.


Stephanie Moeller in Trojan WomenStephanie Moeller

Moeller's theatre year began with March's Much Ado About Nothing for the Prenzie Players, where she gave a delicate, magnificently heartfelt performance as the ingénue Hero. It turns out that was just practice; Moeller wound up a Hero(ine) in all of her 2009 endeavors. In the Prenzies' The Winter's Tale, she provided a great, gender-bending switcheroo, enacting a wholly believable pre-teen boy as Act I's Mamillius, and a richly sensual romantic as Act II's Perdita. In the group's Trojan Women, Moeller offered a definitive portrait of madness graced with euphoria - her Cassandra was one of the year's most chilling, even harrowing stage turns. (Her dragged-off exit was the stuff of nightmares.) And just when you thought Moeller couldn't surprise you further, she did, with her wonderfully well-sung Tuptim in Quad City Music Guild's The King & I. Seriously, no one this young should be allowed to be this freakin' talented.


Adam Peters, Jenni Boldt, Jason Platt, and Tracy Pelzer-Timm in Guys & DollsTracy Pelzer-Timm

I didn't see this radiant performer on stage this year before March or after July. But man, did Pelzer-Timm stay busy between those months! After playing an obsessive wife in Harrison Hilltop's La Llorona, she shared joyously hostile repartee and occasional tenderness with Andy Koski in New Ground's Going Back Naked: Two Plays by Local Playwrights. And before her local-theatre year concluded with Harrison Hilltop's tick ... tick ... BOOM!, Pelzer-Timm took part in a dynamically endearing Guys & Dolls for Muscatine's New Era Community Theatre, where her Adelaide and Jason Platt's Nathan Detroit forged goofball bliss. These four productions, though, weren't the whole of Pelzer-Timm's 2009 stage involvement, and I regretted not catching her in November's Reefer Madness for the University of Iowa, as friends who did said the show was outstanding. I have no doubt that's true; wherever she appears, Pelzer-Timm provides an infectious high.


Steve Quartell and James Bleecker in The Zoo StorySteve Quartell

Quartell played the conflicted husband to Tracy Pelzer-Timm's unbalanced wife in the Green Room's 2008 Angels in America presentations, and this January, found himself in another Green Room show, albeit at the Harrison Hilltop. As part of Songs for a New World's musical quartet, the confident performer was vocally assured, teasingly ironic, and clearly comfortable in the Davenport venue - and a good thing, too, because the Harrison Hilltop would go on to keep him plenty occupied. In addition to his portrayals in La Llorona, The Zoo Story, Of Mice & Men, and The Rocky Horror Show (where he delivered a knockout rendition of "Hot Patootie"), Quartell pulled off a multi-hyphenated coup as director-adapter-actor for Oedipus Rex, updating Sophocles' text with great wit and playfulness. Oh, and Quartell's other 2009 stage endeavor? Circa '21's stunning production of Peter Pan. He may not have left the Harrison Hilltop often, but when he did, he chose well.


Bryan Woods, Pat Flaherty, and ensemble members in Henry the Sixth: The ContentionBryan Woods

Included among Woods' 2009 stage appearances were roles in plays by William Shakespeare, Aristophanes, Euripides, Lillian Hellman, and Neil Simon. That's all well and good, but the guy should really start shooting for variety one of these days ... . I kid, of course, and Woods himself provided some expert kidding on local stages, delivering Simon gags in Black Hawk College's The Dinner Party, and Don Wooten parody in Genesius Guild's Thesmophoriazusae. (Woods enacted a salute, of sorts, to disgraced governor Eliot Spitzer. Talk about variety.) Meanwhile, his dramatic chops were in evidence not only in the Guild's Hecuba and Henry the Sixth: The Contention, but in shows at two additional venues: Playcrafters' Barn Theatre, for Hellman's The Children's Hour, and the Harrison Hilltop, for Karen Brody's Birth. If the oft-cast Woods somehow makes his way into your home movies in 2010, don't say you were caught off guard.


Vicki Deusinger, Kevin Brake, Don Hazen, Mike Kelly, and Paul Workman in See How They RunPaul Workman

Some of the individuals cited here had more sizable roles in 2009; some appeared at a greater number of venues. But are any of them more aptly named? The effortlessly honest, naturalistic Workman was disciplined and impressive in five productions this year, and made the hard work of theatrical performance seem like no work at all. (Which, come to think of it, makes him inaptly named. Hmm. Let's press on.) He began his area-theatre year trading wisecracks in Black Hawk's The Dinner Party, and was a singing phantom for Harrison Hilltop's The Rocky Horror Show. But Workman's engaged presence made even his cameos in Playcrafters' A Raisin in the Sun and Papa's Angels memorable, and his inspired and enthusiastic portrayal in the theatre's See How They Run was also a model of deadpan slapstick. You try saying, "It can't amount to tantamount to slaughter" with a straight face.


Denise Yoder and Andy Lord in The Winter's TaleDenise Yoder

Many say that there are too few good roles available for local actresses, but 2009 proved that wasn't the case. It's just that such a large chunk of them went to Denise Yoder - and speaking as a longtime fan, it's about damned time. This year, this terrifically spirited Prenzie Player extended her Shakespeare credits with stellar turns in the troupe's Much Ado About Nothing and The Winter's Tale. But what was equally inspiring was the breadth of opportunities she earned elsewhere; Yoder was quick-witted and thoughtful in Playcrafters' The Mousetrap, touching and hilarious in Richmond Hill's Rabbit Hole, affecting and bold in the Village Theatre's The Boys Next Door, and - perhaps best of all - a haunting and emotionally devastating Queen Jocasta in Harrison Hilltop's Oedipus Rex. Despite considerable competition, Yoder was this year's area-theatre MVP; audiences can only hope her productivity continues into 2010.


And what, you may be wondering, were past "Essentials" up to in area theatre this year? Glad you asked - because as you can see, they're still essential. (All credits are as performers unless otherwise noted, and only include theatrical participation as actor, director, or producer, considering that some of these artists' design credits alone would take days to list.)


James Bleecker: Pinkalicious (Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse), The Graduate, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Oedipus Rex, Of Mice & Men, The Rocky Horror Show, Thom Pain [based on nothing], The Zoo Story (Harrison Hilltop Theatre).

Tyson Danner: The Nutcracker (Ballet Quad Cities), Doubt: A Parable - director, Songs for a New World - co-director, Steel Magnolias - producer (Green Room Theatre), Bash - co-director (Phoenix Theatre Company).

Jeff De Leon: Hate Mail (Riverbend Theatre Collective).

Jaci Entwisle: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, A Year with Frog & Toad (St. Ambrose University).

Pat Flaherty: Glengarry Glen Ross (Curtainbox Theatre Company), Henry the Sixth: The Contention, Henry the Sixth: Richard, Duke of York, Thesmophoriazusae (Genesius Guild), Oedipus Rex (Harrison Hilltop Theatre), Cowbird, Swimming in the Shallows (New Ground Theatre).

Patti Flaherty: Cowbird (New Ground Theatre), The Children's Hour - director (Playcrafters Barn Theatre), The Boys Next Door (Village Theatre).

Neil Friberg: The Big Funk (Augustana College).

Kimberly Furness: Frosty's Magic Hat - director, Junie B. Jones & a Little Monkey Business - director, Pinkalicious - director, Ring of Fire (Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse), Glengarry Glen Ross - producer (Curtainbox Theatre Company), Swimming in the Shallows (New Ground Theatre).

Bob Hanske: Henry the Sixth: The Contention, Henry the Sixth: Richard, Duke of York, Thesmophoriazusae (Genesius Guild).

Brad Hauskins: Frosty's Magic Hat, Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical, Peter Pan, Pinkalicious (Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse).

Don Hazen: Of Mice & Men (Harrison Hilltop Theatre), The Mousetrap, See How They Run (Playcrafters Barn Theatre), Laughing Stock (Richmond Hill Barn Theatre).

Sheri Hess: Annie Get Your Gun (Countryside Community Theatre), The Producers (Quad City Music Guild).

Jennifer Kingry: Around the World in 80 Days - director (Richmond Hill Barn Theatre), The Last Five Years - director (Riverbend Theatre Collective).

Adam Lewis: tick ... tick ... BOOM! (Harrison Hilltop Theatre), The Mousetrap (Playcrafters Barn Theatre), Much Ado About Nothing, The Winter's Tale (Prenzie Players).

Jackie Madunic: Long Day's Journey Into Night (Harrison Hilltop Theatre), All Shook Up (Quad City Music Guild).

Jeremy Mahr: Doubt: A Parable (Green Room Theatre), Trojan Women, The Winter's Tale (Prenzie Players).

Liz J. Millea: Holly Jolly Christmas (Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse).

Andrea Moore: Frosty's Magic Hat, Holly Jolly Christmas, Peter Pan, Pinkalicious (Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse).

Jason Platt: Long Day's Journey Into Night, Oedipus Rex (Harrison Hilltop Theatre), Guys & Dolls (New Era Community Theatre), Almost, Maine (Richmond Hill Barn Theatre), The Boys Next Door (Village Theatre).

Eddie Staver III: Glengarry Glen Ross (Curtainbox Theatre Company), Hecuba (Genesius Guild), Oedipus Rex, True West (Harrison Hilltop Theatre), Going Back Naked: Two Plays by Local Playwrights, Swimming in the Shallows (New Ground Theatre), The Boys Next Door (Village Theatre).

Tristan Tapscott: Peter Pan, Pinkalicious, Ring of Fire (Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse), Glengarry Glen Ross (Curtainbox Theatre Company), Steel Magnolias - director (Green Room Theatre), La Llorona - director, Oedipus Rex, The Rocky Horror Show, Thom Pain [based on nothing] - director, tick ... tick ... BOOM! - director, The Zoo Story - director (Harrison Hilltop Theatre), The Mousetrap - director (Playcrafters Barn Theatre).

Harold Truitt: The King & I, The Producers (Quad City Music Guild).

Chris Walljasper: Birth - director, The Rocky Horror Show (Harrison Hilltop Theatre).

Tom Walljasper: Church Basement Ladies, Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical, Peter Pan, Ring of Fire (Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse).

Ryan Westwood: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard III (Riverside Theatre), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (St. Ambrose University).

Chris White: Bash (Phoenix Theatre Company), Almost, Maine, Around the World in 80 Days (Richmond Hill Barn Theatre).

Maggie Woolley: Henry the Sixth: The Contention (Genesius Guild), Long Day's Journey Into Night (Harrison Hilltop Theatre), Cowbird, Going Back Naked: Two Plays by Local Playwrights (New Ground Theatre).

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