Year in Review: Critics Praise 2019 Performances

Meadows talent represented in multiple DFW “best-of” lists

Faculty Members: Michael Connolly, Kara-Lynn Vaeni, & Blake Hackler

Works and performances by faculty, students and alumni were recognized by eight area critics in their “Best of 2019” year-end lists.


TheaterJones dance writer Emily Sese’s list of favorite dance works in 2019 included the SMU Spring Dance Concert production of Takehiro Ueyama’s Heroes as “Best Modern Dance” performance. Sese said the concert showcased the “continued excellence” of SMU, and Heroes was the “perfect example of the school’s professionalism and maturity.”


In her Critical Rant blog, longtime theatre critic Alexandra Bonifield named The Wolves at Dallas Theater Center as one of the top five regional theatre productions of 2019. The show, a co-production with SMU Meadows, featured a cast comprised mostly of Meadows students and alumni. Bonifield wrote, “Gritty and ferocious, naïve and tender: the ensemble created honest personae without a trace of cringe-worthy stereotype or girlie folderol.”

Six TheaterJones theatre critics cited Meadows participants in their lists. Martha Heimberg’s look back at 2019 included praise for alumna Sally Nystuen Vahle (’90) in Dallas Theater Center’s Sweat; alumnus Adam “Ace” Anderson (’13) and Associate Professor Blake Hackler for their performances in Dallas Theater Center’s Twelfth Night; alumna Jessica D. Turner (’99) as the “dynamic center” of Blake Hackler’s What We Were, a play about three sisters surviving their father’s sexual abuse on an East Texas farm; “ruthless comedian” and alumnus Michael Federico (’98) in Noises Off at Theatre Three, directed by Assistant Professor Kara-Lynn Vaeni; and You Got Older at Kitchen Dog Theater, directed by alumna Tina Parker (’91).

Theater writer Janice Franklin noted two themes in 2019 productions: “fearlessness and kick-ass women.” Among those she cited were a love offering at Kitchen Dog Theater, directed by alumna Tina Parker, which focused on the tensions between caretakers and family members of an ill patient; Noises Off, directed by Assistant Professor Kara-Lynn Vaeni, for its outstanding set design; and What We Were by Associate Professor Blake Hackler, featuring alumni Lydia Mackay (’08) and Jessica D. Turner. In addition, Franklin wrote that she loved The Armor Plays: Cinched and Strappedat Theatre Three – so much so that she stopped featured actor and alumna Ana Hagedorn (’18 ) in a store to tell her how much she enjoyed her performance. 

In the category of performance art/alternative performance, theater critic Frank Garrett cited The Mac’s series of queer performances as part of their Cosmic to Corporeal exhibition, in which he said Division of Art alum Jer’Lisa Devezin (’19) was a standout.

Arts writer Teresa Marrero cited Red Chariot at Undermain Theatre as one of her favorite productions of 2019; directed by Blake Hackler, it was a “heady, complex, futuristic puzzle of a play.”

Theater writer Jan Farrington noted four shows that made a major impression on her, one of which was Everybody at Stage West, directed by alumnus Jake Nice (’15). She said the director and cast “brought heart, energy, goofiness, and depth of feeling to this modern riff on the 15th-century morality play Everyman.” Another was What We Were by Blake Hackler; she said the three principal actors, including alumni Lydia Mackay and Jessica D. Turner, gave “tender, tough and unforgettable performances.” And a third was Everything Is Wonderful at WaterTower Theatre, featuring actor and alumnus Seth Magill (’99)

In his extensive review of area theatre in 2019, TheaterJones editor Mark Lowry wrote that several themes stood out. One was the showing of work by local playwrights. Lowry noted that two dominant playwrights – Blake Hackler and alumnus Michael Federico – each had two mainstage productions: “Hackler’s was one play, What We Were, but it was seen at Second Thought Theatre in Dallas and Circle Theatre in Fort Worth. Federico had The Manufactured Myth of Eveline Flynn (with Ian Ferguson) and Dracula at Theatre Three.” Lowry also noted that in 2020, alumna Janielle Kastner (’12) will “join that club with two new plays, Playwrights in the Newsroom in AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project with Brigham Mosley (’10), and Sweetpea at Second Thought Theatre.” Another theme was works featuring queer artists of color; Lowry wrote that “queer, transgender and nonbinary people of color were loud and proud” in a number of works, including Pete: A New Dance Musical by Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, a company led by alumnus Joshua Peugh (’06).

Lowry’s top 10 shows of the year included two Caryl Churchill plays at Second Thought Theatre: Drunk Enough to Say I Love You, featuring Blake Hackler and alumnus Brandon Potter (’14), and Here We Go, featuring Associate Professor Michael Connolly in a “quiet, physical and profound performance”; Lungs at Stage West, directed by alumna Carson McCain (’14) and starring alumnus Ruben Carrazana (’13); a love offering at Kitchen Dog Theater, directed by alumna Tina Parker; and Sweat at Dallas Theater Center, featuring a “gripping performance” by alumna Sally Nystuen Vahle.