John Kaufmann 's talent lies in creating wildly differing theater pieces, using a wealth of technologies to push and pull at assumptions about what theater is. His solo show linger examined what it means to be "in the moment"; his collaboration with Dan Dennis, Starball, used a planetarium and the dreams of the audience to construct a new mythology and a new set of constellations. This past July, Kaufmann conceived of a piece for the 14/48 festival in which the actors recited what people told them over cell phones; one actor had to run to Lake Union and dip his leg in the water, all the while describing his trip to another actor who remained in the theater. It was unlike any conventional theatrical experience, yet completely compelling. BRET FETZER

Sarah Rudinoff 's first solo show, Broad Perspective, first performed at Re-bar in 1998 and subsequently toured in Australia and elsewhere, was a lot of fun, full of bawdy, campy humor and some great singing. Rudinoff's second solo show, Go There, first performed at Re-bar a few months ago and not toured anywhere (yet), blew everyone's socks off. This self-proclaimed "pint-sized diva" brought a new and richer emotional depth to her already powerhouse singing, and she actually told a story about being in New York City on 9/11 that was not only scary and sad, but also scathingly, brutally hilarious--a portrait of human nature under horrific stress and not exactly rising to the occasion. BRET FETZER

In Matt Fontaine's career there have been some fine acting and some lovely/funny songs, but the jewel on his resumé is Herbert West: Re-Animator, which debuted in the 2002 Seattle Fringe Festival and later had a run at Open Circle Theater. Horror, which usually depends on gore and spectacle, tends not to fare well in the theater; Fontaine, with some subtle visual effects and a three-piece musical combo, turned an H.P. Lovecraft story (adapted by Zack Lenihan) about revived corpses into a creepy, thoughtful, and downright elegant live event. His recent late-night celebration of grossness, Fucked, was notable for the moments of strange and unsettling beauty, like the tenderly staged midnight skinny-dipping that ended in drowning and necrophilia. Fontaine's work is not to everyone's taste, but genius has never hewed to the common path. BRET FETZER

Wayne S. Rawley is one of Seattle's finest artistic minds. His work is deeply funny and insightful, sharply illuminating the sometimes-sad comedy of everyday life. Live from the Last Night of My Life, for example, chronicles the equally strange reality and fantasy worlds of a gas station clerk on the last shift before his planned suicide. He serves a host of late-night characters and gives reflective soliloquies to security cameras, freshly installed by management to keep an eye on the employees.

Rawley is the author of several short plays, as well as the full-length God Damn Tom, and Theater Schmeater's Money & Run, the hilarious late-night serial about a podunk Bonnie and Clyde, which will soon be mounted in Berkeley. BRENDAN KILEY

Set design is one of the subtle arts, best functioning when it doesn't call attention to itself. Etta Lilienthal is an exquisite designer whose work cannot fail to impress you. Design, according to Lilienthal, is "about trying to understand the way the actors interact and function in the space you create. You're not just putting a sculpture on the stage."

Lilienthal's sensitive and powerful eye for light, space, and color is currently on display in the UMO Ensemble production of Fatal Peril, for which she brilliantly melds a wall she saw in Pennsylvania with the architecture of a Middle Eastern medina, creating a new space with the heavy aura of age and use.

Lilienthal recently won an NEA fellowship, which she plans to use to study with light sculptor and earth artist James Turrell and London playwright Howard Barker. BRENDAN KILEY