John Douglas Thompson wins the Elliot Norton Prize; Arlekin Players, Julianne Boyd also quoted

John Douglas Thompson, whose decision to leave the world of computer sales in 1986 was the gift that continues to delight theatergoers, is this year’s recipient of the Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence. Thompson has been called out by many critics, including me, America’s leading Shakespearean actor. He received rave reviews last year for his portrayals of Shylock in the New York and Washington production of “The Merchant of Venice” and Prospero for the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of “The Tempest.”

His talents go far beyond Shakespeare, evidenced by his stellar years as a member of the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, the Shakespeare & Company in Lenox (where he played Louis Armstrong) and the American Repertory Company in Cambridge. Thomspon will receive his award virtually this year as the ceremony will be held online due to COVID concerns on May 23 at 8 p.m. Details will be announced shortly on ElliotNortonawards.com.

The cast of the “witness” of the Arlekin players. Darya Denisova is in the background in the Statue of Liberty costume. (Courtesy of Arlekin Players)
Julianne Boyd, founder and artistic director of Barrington Stage Company.  (Courtesy)
Julianne Boyd, founder and artistic director of Barrington Stage Company. (Courtesy)

The Boston Theater Critics Assn., which administers the awards, also presented two citations, one to Arlekin Players Theater & Zero Gravity (zero-G) Virtual Theater Lab Artistic Director Igor Golyak and actress Darya Denisova for their pioneering work in online theater, which began during the pandemic. The other goes to Julianne Boyd, co-founder and outgoing artistic director of the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass. Boyd built the organization from scratch into a premier regional American theater.

The pandemic has had an overwhelming effect on many theaters, both locally and nationally, but several companies have returned to live theater this year with excellent seasons. Leading the nominations this year were SpeakEasy Stage Company with 19 nominations and the Huntington Theater Company with 14. Gloucester Stage Company, which held its outdoor season at the Windhover Center for Performing Arts in Rockport, had 8.

Favorite productions included “The Bluest Eye” at the Huntington (7), “People, Places & Things” at SpeakEasy (5) and “Tiny Beautiful Things” at Gloucester Stage Company (5).

For a full list of nominees, visit elliotnortonawards.com.