Etta Lilienthal and Ben Zamora

Etta Lilienthal's design for God's Ear at Washington Ensemble Theatre this year was a triumph, a masterpiece of soft minimalism, and (the ultimate challenge of any set) a visual elucidation of the script. Jenny Schwartz's play examines a family fracturing after the death of a child, with harrowing and magical-realist imagination: dad turns to booze and affairs, sister's dolls come to life, mom's mind splinters. Lilienthal dialed straight into the play's heart by building five white walls on WET's tiny stage, one behind the other, with concentric circles cut from their centers. With precision lighting by Ben Zamora, she created a telescope emphasizing the isolation between the characters and the rabbit hole of their collective grief. The circles took on different colors, dusky blue or bright yellow, allowing scenes to play out simultaneously in living rooms and hotel rooms. The design was simple but versatile and seemed to defy the physics of light. Not since Crave (also at WET, also directed by Roger Benington) has a Seattle design so intelligently and viscerally dovetailed with its script. It was more than a set: It was an installation. BRENDAN KILEY

Charles Leggett

Charles Leggett has been a notable presence on Seattle's fringe scene for over a decade, but his continuing adventures on professional stages bring out his best. As the lackadaisically estranged husband—sweet, schlumpy, "Soviet-hearted"—in ACT's Becky's New Car, Leggett was a revelation, anchoring Steven Dietz's inspired flight of fancy with a spontaneous, hilarious, endlessly humane performance. More, please. DAVID SCHMADER

Brandon Whitehead

Actor Brandon Whitehead has bobbed around Seattle theaters for years, chronically underappreciated by big-theater casting directors while unfailingly entertaining his audiences. He specializes in comedy (large frame, booming voice, fearlessness), but he can zap a strong current of pathos into the middle of his buffoonery. His performance as Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces was gold standard. He was Ignatius, the atavistic, outraged, gluttonous Catholic pinballing through 1970s New Orleans, feeding himself with cheap hot dogs, scorn for others, and pity for himself. Film adaptations of Confederacy have been stalled for years at a time by disasters and death. I am convinced God visited these disasters upon the projects because He, in His infinite wisdom, was waiting for Whitehead to play the part. I hope Hollywood is paying attention. BK

Marya Sea Kaminski

It has become an annual tradition at The Stranger to wring our hands about not giving a Genius Award to actor, director, teacher, and writer-of-solo-shows Marya Sea Kaminski. And here we are again. Kaminski is a Seattle treasure, but we can't help thinking her best work is yet to come. BK