With so much hoopla going on over which new Broadway musical will win the Tony, or which Broadway plays didn't win a Pulitzer, once again the Village Voice OBIE Awards are here to remind us of the vitality found Off and Off-Off-Broadway.
Presenting at this year's awards, May 19 at NYC's Webster Hall, will be actors Fyvush Finkel, Kathleen Chalfant, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Peter Francis James, Shirley Knight, Camryn Manheim, Mary Louise Parker, Roger Guenveur Smith, Julie Taymor, Marisa Tomei and Rip Torn; designer Ming Cho Lee, and directors Karin Coonrod and Scott Elliot. Performing at the event will be the Off-Broadway-via-Australia troupe, Tap Dogs, and Eve Ensler doing a segment from her Vagina Monologues.
Started in 1956 by critic Jerry Tallmer, the OBIES were intentionally made more informal than typical awards, with categories less rigidly grouped to reward excellence rather than just fill quotas. Back then, Off Broadway was first coming into its own; now, "downtown" theatre has moved into the mainstream with shows like Rent and performers like Eric Bogosian or Charles Busch.
This season's judges are Voice senior editor Ross Wetzsteon, Voice critics Michael Feingold, Alisa Solomon, actress Karen Evans-Kandel (Peter And Wendy), playwright Craig Lucas (God's Heart), professor Eugene Nesmith, Lincoln Center Library's Rob Marx, and OBIE secretary Charles McNulty.
Unlike many other awards, the OBIES don't have nominations. OBIE spokesperson Gail Parenteau quoted Wetzsteon as saying the organization doesn't believe in nominations because "they don't like awarding one person at the others' expense." Also unlike other honors, multiple productions or artists can win in a single category -- and the OBIES come with a cash grant. Because the award ceremony is still rather small-scaled, attendance is by invitation only. Also, the awards will not be broadcast on public or cable television (though portions will be taped for segments on news and public affairs shows). Asked why the decision not to go with NY-1 (where, for example, the Drama Desk Awards will be shown), Parenteau said, "We don't want to be contained to a certain length, like an hour and a half or two hours. Also, this is really for insiders who need to feel free to say things and let their hair down."
For more information, check the OBIES website at http://www.villagevoice.com/obies.
--By David Lefkowitz