The hosts of the 2001 OBIE awards made out pretty well at the May 21 ceremony, held at Webster Hall in the East Village. Brian Murray and Marian Seldes, co-stars of the hit Off-Broadway Edward Albee play, The Play About the Baby, not only handed out awards--they received a couple themselves. Murray was recognized for his performance in the Albee work, while Seldes won an OBIE for Sustained Achievement.
Both are past OBIE winners, Seldes for Isadora Duncan and The Ginger Man and Murray for Ashes and a 1998 commendation for Sustained Excellence.
"The playwright Garson Kanin said, 'Sometimes life rhymes,’" said Seldes in a typically gracious (and theatrical) acceptance speech. "Tonight my life rhymes." The late Kanin was Seldes' husband. "Since the first time I stepped in a theatre, I have never been scared, and I am always scared in real life. People don't believe that." She shrugged her shoulders, and explained: "I'm an actress."
Among the evening's award presenters were Darius de Haas, David Gallo, Linda Lavin, Marion McClinton, Debra Monk, J. Smith-Cameron and Daphne Rubin-Vega. P.S. 122 artistic director Mark Russell filled in for an absent Dick Cavett. Rinde Eckert, the writer-actor behind this season's An Idiot Divine and And God Created Great Whales, and poet-performer Carl Hancock Rux, provided live entertainment. Eckert also emerged a winner, receiving an award for Whales.
In comparison to previous years, the 2001 OBIES had an almost mainstream feel, with many shows and performers hailing from some of the more established Uptown Off-Broadway companies. Mary-Louise Parker, star of Manhattan Theatre Club's Proof, which transferred to Broadway, was cited, as was Pamela Isaacs and Janie Dee of the MTC offerings Newyorkers and Comic Potential, respectively. Dee's prize was accepted by the actress' agent, who started his speech by saying, "Janie was here last weekend and she carefully wrote out a speech, which I have somehow lost between having dinner at Pizzeria Uno across the street and here."
MTC claimed one more award: for Edward Kleban, the late composer of A Class Act. Accepting the trophy was Linda Kline, Kleban’s friend, who co-wrote the book to the musical with Lonny Price. "The worst thing about doing this show was not having a composer," said Kline, who then added, in a reference to Kleban's irascible personality, "and the best thing about doing this show was not having a composer!" She went on to say that, while Kleban often boasted of never going below 14th Street, two of his first shows were, in fact, produced by Downtown theatres.
Jackie Hoffman, of the Amy and David Sedaris comedy The Book of Liz, delivered one of the funnier speeches, beginning "OK. I guess I can stop being bitter for a minute." She concluded with, "Amy and David's stuff is unlike anybody else's: you can sit through it."
Several shows were doubly blessed. References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, which played at the Public Theater, won OBIEs for Jose Rivera’s playwriting and John Ortiz’s performance. Urinetown, the offbeat musical which recently won a transfer to Broadway, was cited for Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis’ score and John Carrafa's choreography. Eli's Comin', the Vineyard Theatre show which utilizes the songs of Laura Nyro, won for Diedre Murray's arrangements and the performances of four of its cast members. And the Public's Lackawanna Blues claimed two OBIEs for performer-playwright Ruben Santiago-Hudson and accompanying musician Bill Sims, Jr.
The OBIE committee handed out grants to four companies: Soho Rep, Clubbed Thumb, Classical Theater of Harlem and the Mint Theater. Jonathan Bank, the artistic director of the last, accepted the check and said, "I'd like to thank the press agent Sam Rudy--who is not my press agent; David Gersten is my press agent. But Sam told me I shouldn't leave, which is what I usually do at these things after I've had a couple free beers."
The OBIES, founded in 1956, are sponsored by The Village Voice weekly newspaper to recognize excellence in Off- and Off-Off- Broadway theatre. The OBIE Awards were created soon after the inception of the Village Voice in 1955 "to publicly acknowledge and encourage the growing Off- Broadway theatre movement."
Unlike other award ceremonies, the OBIEs have no nominations, and multiple productions or artists can win in a single category. Because the award ceremony is still rather small-scaled, attendance is by invitation only.
This year's judges include Village Voice theatre editor Brian Parks (who is also OBIE chairman), Voice theatre critics Michael Feingold, Francine Russo and Charles McNulty, composer Jeanie Tesori, actor Arthur French, playwright Doug Wright and actress Lola Pashalinski.
A complete list of winners follows:
Mary-Louise Parker, Proof
Janie Dee, Comic Potential
Bette Bourne, Resident Alien
Brian Murray, The Play About the Baby
George Bartenieff, I Will Bear Witness
Brian D’Arcy James, The Good Thief
Jackie Hoffman, The Book of Liz
Pamela Isaacs, Newyorkers
John Ortiz, References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot
Stephanie Berry, The Shaneequa Chronicles
Judy Kuhn, Mandy Gonzalez, Anika Noni Rose, Ronnell Bey, Eli’s Comin’
Craig Lucas, Saved or Destroyed
Michael Grief, Dogeaters
John Carrafa, Urinetown
Douglas Stein, Texts for Nothing and Saved
Neil Patel, War of the Worlds, Resident Alien, Race and I Will Bear Witness
Bill Sims, Jr., Lackawanna Blues
Kirsten Childs, The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin
Diedre Murray, vocal and instrumental arrangement, Eli’s Comin’
Ed Kleban, A Class Act
Jose Rivera, References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot
Rinde Eckert, And God Created Great Whales
Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman, Kiki and Herb: Jesus Wept
Julia Wolfe, Laurie Olinder, Bill Morrison, Fred Tietz, Cynthia Hopkins, Howard S. Thies, Pilar Limosner, Tim Schellenbaum, Ruth Pongstaphone, Matthew Tierney, for the collaboration design of Jennie Richee; Bob McGrath for the direction of Jennie Richee
Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman, Urinetown
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Lackawanna Blues
Pamela Gien, The Syringa Tree
Sustained Achievement Award
Classical Theatre of Harlem
Ross Wetzsteon Award
Theatre for a New Audience