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LETTERS TO EDITOR
The 48th Annual Village Voice Obie Awards
by Les Gutman
The chorus of season-ending awards, and the ceremonies that announce them, can prompt mind-numbing or, alternatively, early stage nostalgia. Year after year, The Village Voice's Obie Awards prove most likely to fall in the latter category. This year's awards are no exception, although they allow for a bit of reflection on a lackluster New York theater season that is itself a little rough on the brain.
The construct of the Obies makes a seasonal review more sensible than most awards. Since there are no announced nominations or "required" awards in each category, and since multiple awards in a given category are not only permitted but encouraged where warranted, the results present a clearer picture of the body of work that has crossed the stages of Off-Broadway (a term applied broadly since it includes anything produced in New York City that is not On Broadway) during the just-ended season.
To judge by the awards given (and it's a fair depiction), this was a season that underscores the ephemeral nature of theater to the extreme. Most winners represent shows that made only fleeting appearances, and the best known of the city's institutional theaters evaded significant recognition. The only "big winner" was BAM, whose executive director, Jim Melillo, made repeated trips to the stage to accept awards for BAM itself (for International Programming) and a host of visiting artists (performers Simon Russell Beale for Uncle Vanya and Fiona Shaw for Medea, director Deborah Warner for Medea, set designer Anthony Ward for Uncle Vanya and John Kani and Winston Ntshona for The Island). Also notable were four awards received by The Blacks: A Clown Show, which began life at The Classical Theatre of Harlem, moved downtown and will have a return engagement soon. (Two of its performers, Ty Jones and J. Kyle Manzay, received awards, as did Kimberly Glennon for costume design and Anne Lommel for mask design.)
It is also striking that no playwrights were singled out for recognition this year. Several were included in general citations for productions (Ma-Yi's production of The Romance of Magno Rubio, Talking Band's Painted Snake in a Painted Chair, the briefly-seen Nita and Zita at HERE), David Greenspan was recognized for writing, directing and performing in She Stoops to Comedy at Playwright's Horizons and Mac Wellman received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his body of work. The bottom line is, the year passed without the addition of a significant new play to the annals of Off-Broadway theater.
This is not to suggest that the ceremony was uninspiring or unentertaining. Musical contributions to the evening were provided by Cynthia Hopkins and company performing songs from The Transmission Project's Compress Your Dreams and Jason Petty (who also received a performance award) from Hank Williams: Lost Highway. The evening's hosts were Charlayne Woodard and Bill Irwin, and presenters were Edward Albee, Linda Emond, Juliana Francis, Jackie Hoffman, Eddie Izzard, John Ortiz, Martha Plimpton and Liev Schreiber.
For a complete list of winners and grant recipients, go here.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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