Susan Hilferty, accepting her Obie for Sustained Excellence in Costume Design, told this story to salute "the community of jewelers" before her on Monday night, filling Webster Hall for the 2000 Village Voice Obie Awards ceremony--recipients, presenters, believers.
Since 1956, when Jerry Tallmer invented the word, the Obie Awards have been passed out for outstanding achievement in theater. Tallmer was a Village Voice employee at the time, so the awards have stayed pretty much on V.V. turf, but not exclusively. This year's guest judges who joined the paper's regular critics--Michael Feingold, Alisa Solomon, James Hannaham, and Brian Parks--included director Jo Bonney, playwright (and "jeweler") Mac Wellman, and performance artist Holly Hughes.
The Obies are the only awards that pointedly eschew Broadway in favor of Off-Broadway and even deepest, darkest Off-Off Broadway, singling out achievements worthy of honor. In fact, Feingold went out of his way to justify the inclusion of producer David Merrick's name in this year's necrology. The tyrannical Broadway titan, according to Feingold, gave the kind of performances off-stage "that created the need for Off-Broadway."
But it was the performances on stage that commanded the attention of the assemblage.
Stage veteran Eileen Heckart got the only standing ovation of the evening when her name was called out by her Up the Down Staircase co-star, Frances Sternhagen. Heckart was honored for her depiction of the senile art gallery owner in The Waverly Gallery. (That performance, at the Promenade Theatre--along with Heckart's stage career, to hear her tell it--will come to an end May 28.) She has, counting the honorary Tony she is to receive, racked up seven awards with this portrayal.
The nine-person cast of Jitney rose as one--as they did the night before at the Drama Desk Awards--to accept individual citations for outstanding ensemble performance. Their director, Marion McClinton, also got a nod for his work, but wasn't present. (He was in Boston, readying the next August Wilson opus, King Hedley II, for New York.) Further echoing the Drama Desk was the Obie to David Gallo for the Jitney set, as well as for Manhattan Theatre Club's The Wild Party. His Obie was for Sustained Excellence in Set Design, and Gallo thought that phrase rather daunting.
The Voice choice for playwriting went not to Wilson for Jitney but--surprise, surprise--to deceased playwright Harley Granville Barker for Waste, which only this season got a belated New York production via Theatre for a New Audience. TNA's artistic director, Jeffrey Horowitz--born the year Barker died, 1946--accepted the prize.
And, of course, the Obies won by Elizabeth Marvel and Christopher Evan Welch for New York Theatre Workshop's A Streetcar Named Desire echo the Oscars of Vivien Leigh and Karl Malden, just as the Obie Debra Monk won for her portrayal of the love-struck spinster in The Time of the Cuckoo echoes the Tony that Shirley Booth won for the original Broadway edition of Arthur Laurents' play.
Tony winner Lynne Thigpen took home an Obie for convincing people she was a grandmother in Jar the Floor, and Byron Jennings received one for Waste. On the biographical front, there were Obie-winning depictions of Gertrude Stein (by Lola Pashalinski in Gertrude and Alice) and John Latouche (by Eddie Korbich in Taking a Chance on Love).
Some element of secrecy is maintained by the Obie committee; potential winners are strongly urged to attend, but there is still a smattering of red herrings around the floor. Frankly flabbergasted by their wins, Charlayne Woodard (for In the Blood) and Cynthia Hopkins (for Another Telepathic Thing) said it was the first time they'd won anything.
Mark Dendy, who moved the turbulent action of The Wild Party around the stage of Manhattan Theatre Club in dizzying swirls, won an Obie for his stunning choreography.
Director Joe Mantello and performer Marc Wolf, in accepting Obies for their gays-in-the-military solo show, Another American: Asking and Telling, remembered to thank their "totally cool" producer, actor/playwright David Marshall Grant.
Maria Irene Fornes was twice-cited, for writing and for directing Letters From Cuba.
Among the Off-Off Broadway contingent of Obie winners were Jet Lag, Lava Love, Morning Song, The Carbon Copy Building, and Las Horas de Belen-A Book of Hours.
Patrick Stewart was to have co-hosted the evening with Claudia Shear, but at the last moment was placed on vocal rest (not necessarily by The Shubert Organization). Mary Testa rushed in, true-trouper style, to sub for him. The Bomb-Itty of Errors and Kiki & Herb were the night's entertainment.
Among the presenters were Ping Chong (who crowned the evening by winning the major Sustained Achievement prize), parents-to-be William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman, Viola Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Amy Sedaris, Frances Sternhagen (who won an Obie the first year the awards were given out), and Carmelita Tropicana.
Colm Meaney for his performance in The Cider House Rules Part One: Here in St. Clouds
Lynne Thigpen for her performance in Jar the Floor
Elizabeth Marvel for her performance in A Streetcar Named Desire
Christopher Evan Welch for his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire
Charlayne Woodard for her performance in In the Blood
Lola Pashalinkski for her performance in Gertrude and Alice
Dominique Dibbell for her performance in Jet Lag
Cynthia Hopkins for her performance in Another Telepathic Thing
Debra Monk for her performance in The Time of the Cuckoo
Eddie Korbich for his performance in Taking a Chance on Love
Byron Jennings for his performance in Waste
Eileen Heckart for her performance in The Waverly Gallery
For outstanding ensemble performance in Jitney: Russel Hornsby, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Anthony Chisholm, Barry Shabaka Henley, Willis Burks II, Leo V. Finnie III, Paul Butler, Michole Briana White, Carl Lumbly.
Marion McClinton for his direction of Jitney
Jan Hartley for Sustained Excellence in Projection Design
Mark Dendy for his choreography of The Wild Party
Christopher Akerlind for Sustained Excellence in Lighting Design
David Gallo for Sustained Excellence in Set Design
Susan Hilferty for Sustained Excellence in Costume Design
Harley Granville Barker for his play Waste
Best Production to The Carbon Copy Building: Ben Katchor, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Bob McGrath
Jan Lauwers/Needcompany for Morning Song
Sarah E. Johnson for Lava Love
Joe Mantello and Marc Wolf for Another American: Asking and Telling
The Builders Association and Diller + Scofido for Jet Lag
Jesusa Rodriguez and Liliana Felipe for Las Horas de Belen - A Book of Hours
Bill Talen for The Reverend Billy
Maria Irene Fornes for her writing and directing of Letters From Cuba
Deb Margolin for Sustained Excellence of Performance
Ping Chong for Sustained Achievement.
Ross Wetzsteon Award $2000 for the Foundry
$3330 Grants each to: Big Dance Theatre, Circus Amok, and Five Myles