Best Actress Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach 2014 - Valentina Izarra
Kim Ehly's Fort Lauderdale-based Kutumba Theatre Project is just two productions into its existence, but it has established a niche brand as a voice for the lesbian-American experience. Theatergoers have already witnessed growth from its first production, the pulp throwback The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, to its second, Julie Johnson, about a young woman's sexual and intellectual awakenings. That growth largely stemmed from the superlative casting of Valentina Izarra, whose performance as Julie elevated the work of those around her, not all of whom had professional-theater bona fides. In the play's first few minutes, she was a rumple of clothes on the floor of her modest apartment, her face buried in her own despair. Izarra emerged from this state like a turtle finally exiting its shell and experiencing life for the first time. Her character began taking computer classes (cutting-edge for the show's setting, in 1980s New Jersey) and developing feelings for her longtime, female best friend, who, like her, was stuck in an increasingly loveless marriage. Izarra expressed these changes with a radiant positivity and joie de vivre that couldn't help but ripple outward to the audience. It would be reductive to say Julie Johnson is a feel-good play, but if you didn't feel good watching Izarra hilariously and sweetly stumble and fumble and awkwardly navigate these life-changing choices, then you may not be human.