THE 45th ANNUAL VILLAGE VOICE OBIES
Report by Wendy Guida
New York, May 16, 2000
Before the show started people milled about, greeting old friends, posing for photos, goofing around. Dirty Blonde's Claudia Shear danced to the loud background music, while In The Blood's Charlayne Woodard chatted with friends.
Finally, and with no introduction, the talented cast of The Bomb-itty of Errors began a rap from their show, with a special OBIE-related ending. Unfortunately not everyone had been seated yet and the performers really didn't get the attention on stage that they deserved. They are an exuberantly talented cast.
Shear got a laugh when she accidentally spoke of performances that were worthy of an "Oh, boy!" She ad-libbed many funny remarks during the awards presentation. She joked that she and Testa, both of whom wore their hair in long ringlets, looked like they were in a shampoo commercial. She acknowledged the support her work received from the New York Theatre Workshop and said that it is the place where "the art is high and the humor is low." When introducing presenters Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, who are expecting a baby this summer, Shear added, "Claudia's a beautiful name!" Later in the evening she admonished the audience to "settle down or no one will get any ice cream!" Testa got a laugh when she announced that in honor of Patrick Stewart she was going to "wrestle the entire Shubert Organization."
Village Voice theatre critic Michael Feingold again read the list of theatre people who died this year. He asked that we not applaud, but instead think of them and remember them. Among the names on the list was David Merrick and Feingold quipped that "Merrick's performances BACKSTAGE made people feel the need of Off-Broadway." He added that we should all be grateful to those who were no longer with us because, though "sustained excellence" is a frightening concept (as one OBIE recipient had remarked earlier) "the memory of their excellence sustains us."
Acceptance Speeches: I stand by my pet peeve from last year and have a few new ones. I am still so bored by laundry-list acceptance speeches. This year I add the pet peeve of people who send others up to accept the award in their stead. It's disappointing when people cannot attend to receive their awards, but it sometimes can't be avoided, particularly with the OBIEs, which have no nominations announced. But it is downright tedious to have to listen to someone ELSE accept the award for them. If they feel they MUST send someone to accept, then they should at LEAST provide them with something entertaining to read. And this next peeve is actually unrelated to acceptance speeches, but I think it's important: no woman should ever, under any circumstances, wear one of those one-shoulder dresses. The ONLY person that looks good on is Betty Rubble.
Acceptance Speech Highlights:
Mark Dendy (for Choreography of MTC's The Wild Party): He acknowledged his high school drama teacher who, after the second week of school, took him aside and gave him a copy of The Village Voice, saying that it was THE source for serious criticism of dance and theatre, and that from then on he would pass his copy along to him. Dendy praised the Voice's critics because though they did not always give a good review, it was as though they were sitting across the table from you and talking to you. He said they are part of the community and there is not an "Us versus Them" relationship.
David Gallo (for Sustained Excellence in Set Design for both Jitney and MTC's The Wild Party): He laughed nervously that "sustained excellence" is an intimidating thing, but that he would do the best he could.
Lola Pashalinski (for her portrayal of Gertrude Stein in Gertrude and Alice): She recalled Gertrude Stein's words that "if people could just read or hear [her] words, they'd understand." She recounted the time, "many birthdays ago, when dinosaurs walked the earth" that she was given one of Gertrude Stein's books to read. She thanked her partner for "pushing...whipping...pussy whipping her" and added, for the somewhat bemused audience, that she "can't get enough pussy."
Christopher Evan Welch (for his portrayal of Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire): He wins my personal award for Funniest Acceptance Speech. He told two anecdotes about his director, "European" Ivo van Hove. He explained van Hove's "selective knowledge of English" and told of one rehearsal in which van Hove had searched for the right words to describe Welch's performance. "...your performance......... achieved nothing? .......has no value? .......Is that right?" He then told of another time when he met van Hove outside the theatre and noticed that they were dressed similarly. As van Hove stood there "brooding in his European way," Welch, pointing to their outfits, said, "Ivo...we're the same!" Van Hove paused, then in all seriousness responded, "Outwardly."
Maria Irene Fornes (for her play Letters from Cuba): She came to the podium and asked, "Do I have to say something now?" She thanked the judges for her "Over...Ober...OBIE" and then explained that she'd had a little wine before the show started.
Sarah E. Johnson (for her play Lava Love): She laughed in surprise that though she is a Virgo, she was unprepared for this acceptance speech. She spoke of her gratitude at being able to do work which "celebrates women and the planet we live on."
Dominique Dibbell (for her performance in Jet Lag): She was unable to accept her award in person, so she sent her mother with a funny speech to read (see pet peeve above). She told of how she had moved to California and hoped that this OBIE would do for her what it did for Camryn Manheim. She also spoke lovingly of the downtown theatre community and compared it to "summer camp...with word processing during the day."
Joe Mantello and Marc Wolf (Special Citation for Another American: Asking and Telling): One of them lovingly teased their producer David Marshall Grant for having so lost his mind and become so insane with power that he started answering his home phone "David Marshall Grant Productions." They criticized the federal government for its "ludicrous policy" regarding gays in the military and applauded the "people who survived the policy and the family members of those who didn't." They spoke of the thrill of currently performing the play in Washington, D.C., "five minutes from the White House, the Capitol, and the Pentagon."
Eileen Heckart (for her performance in The Waverly Gallery): She told a funny anecdote about getting her hopes up for an OBIE many years ago when she was told she was a shoe-in and then did not receive one. She said how grateful she was to have her OBIE FINALLY.
Susan Hilferty (for Sustained Excellence in Costume Design for Dirty Blonde): She wins my personal award for Best Acceptance Speech Anecdote. Her first job was doing costumes for Shelly Winters. Shelly told her about a time when Bertoldt Brecht was staying at her house in Hollywood. Shelly's father came in one day and asked "Where's the jeweler?" Shelly had no idea what he was talking about. He said Brecht had told him "I make jewels for poor people." Ms. Hilferty said that as she looked around the room she saw a community of jewelers.
Cynthia Hopkins (for Another Telepathic Thing): She thanked Mark Twain and added, "...though I don't think he's here tonight."
Bill Talen (for his performances as Reverend Billy): As Reverend Billy, Bill Talen creatively protests against chains such as Starbucks, which was somewhat ironic as Starbucks was a sponsor of last night's show. Commenting that the podium on stage felt "a lot like a pulpit," Talen went into Reverend Billy-mode and preached to the OBIE committee. He wanted to know how much money Starbucks was giving the Voice and wanted assurance that the OBIEs wouldn't "somehow become the BUCKY' Awards." He ended by saying, "I refuse a fucking BUCKY Award! Amen! Hallelujah!"
Ping Chong (for Sustained Achievement): He spoke affectingly of his grandfather's and father's involvement in opera in Singapore, as well as his mother's in Viet Nam and Cambodia. He told how his parents met in San Francisco as they tried to become citizens at a time when there were strict immigration quotas for Chinese people. He also recalled the time years earlier when he was invited to a dance workshop by Meredith Monk and walked around the block four times before he got the courage to go in. It was moving to see how far he had come to earn his OBIE.
With all the excitement in recent weeks over the upcoming TONY Awards, it was heartening last night to see the talent and the vast range of work being done off-Broadway. The variety of what was recognized by The Village Voice OBIE Awards is a testament to the fertile, creative city we live in. You can see for yourself: watch the OBIEs on Metro-Time Warner 70 or on CableVision 16 on Monday, May 22, 2000 at 9pm. Then go treat yourself to an off-Broadway show!
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