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THE VILLAGE VOICE OBIES

Review by Wendy Guida

New York, May 18, 1999

Walking to Webster Hall last night for the 44th annual VILLAGE VOICE OBIES, I happened to see Terrence McNally doing a little food shopping. It made me think of how relative things are. One person’s awards night is another’s evening at the Korean deli, and in New York City, we’re all jumbled together. I tried to pick out the OBIE-goers on my way; it turned out that the woman in the pretty blue dress, behind whom I walked for several blocks, was Kristine Nielson, who later won for her performance in Betty’s Summer Vacation. For me, it was an

exceptional night. I got to meet people whose work I admire so: Betty Buckley, Swoosie Kurtz, Christopher Durang, Kathleen Chalfant, Roger Rees. I reminisced with Lea DeLaria about seeing her perform, as part of a comedy duo, when I was in college. I spoke with Ms. Chalfant about her plans to take Wit to London. I told Edward Hibbert how I had sat next to him at dinner at Tea and Sympathy before seeing him perform (wonderfully) as Oscar Wilde in Gross Indecency. Everyone was in such high spirits and yet there was a more relaxed atmosphere than at the Tonys. We were downtown, and there wasn’t a sequin to be found.

Lea Delaria and Paul Rudnick were hilarious as the hosts. DeLaria came out with a wooden box which she stood on to be tall enough to speak into the mics. When they first came out, she and Rudnick explained that they had a very special announcement to make, that they are actually lovers, and not gay. They joked that they have only been pretending to be gay as a career move and considered this OBIES ceremony to be their honeymoon, since “tonight neither of us is getting anything.” Rudnick went on to explain that there would be two recipients of OBIE grants for sustained achievement. They would receive checks for $1,000, “since everyone knows you can sustain achievement for $1,000!” They joked of the “cosmic sisterhood between Julie Taymor and Shari Lewis,” and that when it comes to being gay in the theatre, the policy is, “don’t ask, don’t Teletubby.”

Betty BuckleyBetty Buckley was introduced as, among other things, “the only person ever to be nice to Carrie.”

Rudnick spoke of his admiration for Margaret Edson. He explained how she is a kindergarten teacher and was called out of her classroom to learn she’d won the Pulitzer Prize for Wit. After learning this, she was eager to return to her classroom, where her students were doing a project with insects. He said, “I would have been out of there SO FAST! It would have been like, ‘here kids, here’s a can of Raid!’”

During one award presentation, Phylicia Rashad misspoke and said “ball game” instead of “ball gown.” She joked, “What can I do? I’m married to Ahmad. I see ‘ball,’ I think ‘game’!”

In a more sobering moment, The Village Voice’s Michael Feingold read the names of those in the business who had died this year, noting his sadness at inheriting the responsibility from the late Ross Wetzsteon. He ended by saying, “We miss them, we mourn them, and we’re grateful for what they left us.”

Acceptance Speeches: I don’t know about you, but I was in total agreement with Rosie O’Donnell last year when she said that acceptance speeches should be funny or from the heart and NOT consist of a laundry list of names. As far as I’m concerned, at award shows nothing is more dull than listening to an endless list of names of people you’ve never heard of. Are these people so desperate to have their two seconds of fame that they will not forgive the winner if he or she doesn’t mention them by name? I think it would be better for the winners to write a very nice thank you note to each person they would like to thank and not make us suffer through these lists. The following are some highlights from the acceptance speeches:

Liev Schreiber (for his performance in Cymbeline): speaking of how much he learned from his director, Andrei Serban, he told of a dress rehearsal attended by his family and friends. During his heartfelt performance of a pastoral speech, he heard Serban’s voice, with its heavy accent, over the loud speaker saying, “No, no, no ... stop ... stop ... What are you doing? You’re so fucking boring!” and Liev thought, “Wow ... so this is what it’s like to work with the Eastern Europeans ... ”

Dare Clubb (for his play Oedipus): compared rehearsals of Oedipus to “swimming in the Great Salt Lake ... no one sank!”

Ronnie Burkett (for Tinka's New Dress): having brought his puppetry to NYC all the way from Canada, Burkett joked that “there is no place farther off-Broadway than Calgary, Alberta!”

Lisa Crone (for 2.5 Minute Ride): (in a speech that was read for her) spoke of how they were sure they had a success on their hands with 2.5 Minute Ride because “who goes to the theatre more than gay people and Jews? We’ll be attracting them like flies.” As it turned out, it was harder to draw them in. She joked, “Some would prefer to spend the night in a concentration camp” than come to the show.

Nicholas Martin (for his direction of Betty's Summer Vacation): noted, “A lot of Americans are winning here tonight ... do they know about this uptown?”

Ellie Covan (Ross Wetzsteon Award to Dixon Place): expressed surprise at winning since she hadn’t “slept with any of the committee members!”

Mia Katigbak (Grant to The National Asian American Theater ): explained that the National Asian American Theatre Company performs European and American classics “ ... because we can!” She spoke of the frustration as actors to be told what you can and can’t do, what you should and shouldn’t. She looked forward to a day when “difference did not equal dissonance, when people realized that the most beautiful harmony comes from the blending of richly diverse voices and colors.”

Swoosie Kurtz (for her performance in The Mineola Twins): applauded The Village Voice for not always going with the flavor of the month. She praised the “breathtaking words of Paula Vogel,” saying that “her nightmare was my dream come true.” She added that “with this role I have been to the top of the mountain and looked down and I am not afraid.” She ended by saying, “Between Myra’s 32Bs and Myrna’s 44Ds, my cups runneth over!”

Kathleen Chalfant (for her performance in Wit): (who wept at the standing ovation she received, which was the only one of the evening) explained that her husband had suggested she wear her hair “like this.” (She did not wear a wig to cover the shaved head she has for Wit) She thanked Margaret Edson because her character “Vivian is in the play ... in the text ... ” She added that “This room represents what is the best about America and American Theatre.” She expressed a wish that they could as a community express to the world how to do it -- to solve all the problems people are trying to solve with murder and guns and terror. She felt there must be some way to make it work for the world.

Daniel Gerrol (for Sustained Excellence of Performance): cracked everybody up when he told us he couldn’t understand the mad rush to get an OBIE because he’d thought it was a diminution of the word “obituary.”

There were performances from two shows, Richard Maxwell’s Debate and Ruth Margraff and Matthew Pierce’s “Snowball” from The Cry Pitch Carrolls. They both defy description, and were thoroughly entertaining.

Rudnick ended the awards presentation by saying, “That was the last OBIE of the evening ... and still nothing for Susan Lucci!” He added that the off-Broadway world is one in which people are “constantly being asked to give everything ... for nothing. So here, talent is finally acknowledged.”

As for me, it was exciting to be at the 44th Annual Village Voice OBIE Awards and I am already looking forward to the 45th. I wonder what the world of off-Broadway holds in store for us in the year to come!



1999 OBIE AWARD WINNERS

WINNERS OF THE 1998-99 SEASON VILLAGE VOICE OBIE AWARDS PRESENTED MON. MAY 17, 1999

PERFORMANCE
Liev Schreiber for his performance in Cymbeline
Kathleen Chalfant for her performance in Wit
Daniel Gerroll for Sustained Excellence of Performance
Matthew Maher for his performance in The Race of the Ark Tattoo
Randall Duk Kim for Sustained Excellence of Performance
Mina Bern for Sustained Excellence of Performance
Darius de Haas for his performance in Running Man
Viola Davis for her performance in Everybody's Ruby
Kristine Nielson for her performance in Betty's Summer Vacation
Swoosie Kurtz for her performance in The Mineola Twins

DIRECTING
Jim Simpson for his direction of Benten Kozo
Melia Bensussen for her direction of The Turn of the Screw
Nicholas Martin for his direction of Betty's Summer Vacation
Declan Donnellan for his direction of Le Cid

DESIGN
Thomas Lynch for Sustained Excellence of Set Design
Michael Chybowski for Sustained Excellence of Lighting Design
Martin Pakledinaz Costume Design for The Misanthrope
Diedre Murray Score for Running Man

PLAYWRIGHTING
W. David Hancock for his play The Race of the Ark Tattoo
Dare Clubb for his play Oedipus
Christopher Durang for his play Betty's Summer Vacation

SPECIAL CITATIONS
Peggy Shaw for Menopausal Gentleman
Richard Maxwell for House
Carmelita Tropicana
David Cale for Lillian
Kim Hughes for Sakina's Restaurant
Aasif Mandvi for Sakina's Restaurant
Ronnie Burkett for Tinka's New Dress
Lisa Kron for 2.5 Minute Ride
Basil Twist Symphonie Fantastique

BEST PRODUCTION
The Wooster Group for Best Production House/Lights

SUSTAINED ACHIEVEMENT
Wynn Handman for Sustained Achievement

GRANTS
The Point, CDC
National Asian American Theater Mia Katigbak, Artistic/Producing Director
Ross Wetzsteon Award Ellie Covan - Dixon Place



Photos by Wendy Guida and Stephen DeRosa


-- Wendy Guida