The Dramatists Guild held its annual Awards Night Feb. 24 at the Lambs Club. Eight members of the association of playwrights, composers and lyricists were honored, capped by a Lifetime Achievement Award to John Guare.
The evening was hosted by the songwriters Bobby Lopez (The Book of Mormon) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (In Transit), with the room buzzing about their hoped-for victory at the Oscars for the song, "Let It Go," from the animated film "Frozen." The couple proved to be a budding comedy team, with Kristen filling the evening with clever asides while Bobby mostly played the straight man with occasional zingers. Over the course of the event, they performed two songs from "Frozen," "Love is an Open Door" and "Let It Go."
First up was the Frederick Loewe Award, given in honor of the late composer. Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife) presented the award to his collaborators on the recent Hands on a Hardbody, Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio. The trio mentioned the travails of that not-well-received production — Anastasio said it was "like trying to parallel park a cruise ship" — but professed great affection for the show and the experience. (Lopez stopped to mention that when he was developing Avenue Q at the BMI Workshop, Green was the first person to play the role of Gary Coleman.)
The Hull-Warriner Award was presented by Stephen Karam (Sons of the Prophet) to Christopher Durang for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. The usually absurdist Durang — who first won the award in 1985 for The Marriage of Bette and Boo — expressed his surprise when he realized that his Vanya was "a well-written, old-fashioned play." The Madge Evans & Sidney Kingsley Award — instituted by the Pulitzer-winning author of Dead End and other plays, and his actress-wife — was presented by Jeffrey Lyons and Gretchen Cryer to Lisa Kron (Fun Home) and actress Viola Davis (Fences), neither of whom were present. Davis sent a message, however, in which she advised that "failing is not as frightening as not taking risks." The Lanford Wilson Award for new playwrights — which offers financial support — was presented by last year's winner, Francine Volpe, to an appreciative and gracious Mike Lew.
Next came the Flora Roberts Award to the veteran playwright Arthur Kopit (Wings), presented by composer Polly Pen (whose Arlington opens at the Vineyard March 2). Dramatists Guild president Stephen Schwartz spoke about the present status of the Guild, which now has more than 7,000 members. He saluted the Dramatists Guild Defense Fund and its recent efforts on behalf of three plays faced by local censorship including a high school production of Rent in Trumbull, CT. The Defender Award was presented by John Weidman (Pacific Overtures) to Larissa Mark, the high school student who spearheaded the social media campaign that resulted in the reinstatement of Rent (which will open March 27 at Trumbull High School). Mark thanked the Guild and blogger Howard Sherman for their efforts on behalf of the students.
The evening ended with the Lifetime Achievement Award being presented to Guare, who charmed the audience with the tale of how as an eleven-year-old he staged three plays in a neighbor's garage and got himself a story in the local newspaper, Newsday. Guare, who has been writing plays ever since, offered one of the best definitions of the playwright's life that we've heard: "You get up in the morning, and you have a problem. You spend all day wrestling with it."