With so much hoopla 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.
Taking Best Play honors was Naomi Wallace's plague drama, One Flea Spare; Best Production went to Peter And Wendy by the Mabou Mines troupe. Here are the winners of this year's awards, presented May 19 at NYC's Webster Hall:
The OBIES often recognize multiple winners in each category.
Performance: Andre Braugher (Henry V)
Tsai Chin (Golden Child)
Jennifer Dundas (Good As New)
David Greenspan (The Boys In The Band)
Karen Kandel (Peter And Wendy)
Albert Macklin (June Moon)
David Morse (How I Learned To Drive)
Mary Louise Parker (How I Learned To Drive)
Sharon Scruggs (The Trojan Women: A Love Story)
Ray Anthony Thomas (Volunteer Man)
Ching Valdes-Aran (Flipzoids).
Sustained Excellence - Lighting Design: Shirley Prendergast.
Sustained Excellence - Costume Design: Catherine Zuber.
Sustained Excellence - Performance: Joanne Camp, Arthur French.
Roger Guenveur Smith (A Huey P. Newton Story);
Marc Anthony Thompson (A Huey P. Newton Story),
Howard Crabtree & The Creators Of When Pigs Fly;
The Creators of Peter And Wendy (designated as "Best Production").
Distinguished Contribution To Off-Broadway: James Hatch & Camille Billops.
Dona Ann McAdams
The Music of Violet (Jeanine Tesori).
Sustained Achievement - Woodie King Jr., of the New Federal Theatre.
Naomi Wallace (One Flea Spare (designated "Best Play")
Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues)
Paula Vogel (How I Learned To Drive)
Lanford Wilson (Sympathetic Magic).
Special $5,000 grants were awarded to Great Small Works and St. Paul's Community Baptist Church Drama Ministry. Special $1,000 grants went to Naomi Wallace (One Flea Spare) and Woodie King Jr.
As for the Distinguished Contribution winners, Hatch is an authority in the field of African-American theatre. Billops is a distinguished artist and ceramicist. Following the credo that "art in America represents the creations of all people, and so-called minority artists must be recorded and preserved," Hatch and Billiops built a library of archival journals, photographs and over 1,000 recorded interviews with artists.
McAdams is a performance artist who specifically uses photography in her work.
Scheduled to be presenters at the ceremony were 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 were 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 were not be broadcast on public or cable television (though portions were 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 were 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