PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 15-21: Days in the Sun

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 15-21: Days in the Sun The Obie Awards, given out every year by the Village Voice to honor Off-Broadway work, became on May 17 the latest awards body to honor Lynn Nottage's play Intimate Apparel. In this case, the prize went not to Nottage, but her thespian interpreter, actress Viola Davis, who has played to acclaim the work's central character, a turn-of-the-century African-American seamstress. In her speech, Davis told how it was such a relief and a happiness to be playing a black woman who was not a mouthpiece or a symbol or a stereotype, but simply a woman.

Also picking up prizes that night were two other talented black actresses, Tonya Pinkins of Caroline, or Change, and Sarah Jones of bridge and tunnel. Later in the week, Anika Noni Rose, who plays Pinkins' daughter in Caroline, or Change, was named for the Clarence Derwent Award honoring "the most promising female and male performers on the New York metropolitan scene." Rose won a Tony nomination the previous week. As for Jones, who plays a multitude of characters in her solo show bridge, the actress and her show have extended its sold out run through Aug. 15 and is aiming to transfer to Broadway in March 2005.

Broadway is currently where Caroline sits, as does A Raisin in the Sun, which has provided three black actresses with prime roles: Phylicia Rashad (who, earlier this season starred in Tracey Scott Wilson's race-infused newspaper drama, The Story), Audra McDonald and Sanaa Lathan. McDonald won a Drama Desk Award on May 16 for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play, while Davis and Rashad, competing for the Outstanding Actress in a Play honor, actually tied. All three Raisin actresses are up for a Tony.

It's been an exceptionally rewarding year for African-American stage actresses—a happy feature of this rather dismal season. As a group, female black performers have often been starved for meaty roles in worthwhile plays. This year, Davis, Rose, Jones, McDonald, Rashad and Lathan not only have jobs, but are framed by some of the most praised (or, in the case of Raisin, popular) works of the season.

It looks as through the good times may continue. A new Nottage play, Fabulation, starring Charlayne Woodard, begins June 3. La Chanze will star in the Broadway-bound adaptation of The Color Purple, beginning performances Sept. 9 at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre. August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean, starting the Huntington Theatre of Boston's season on Sept. 10, will give Rashad her next job, while McDonald is set for the new Michael John LaChiusa musical R Shomon at the Williamstown Theatre Festival July 21-Aug. 1.

*** The Obies otherwise reaffirmed the accepted critical hits of the Off-Broadway season: there were awards for Living Out, Well, Frozen, I Am My Own Wife, Aunt Dan and Lemon, Iron and Bug. A surprise was the clutch of laurels heaped on the head of the dead and (at least by critics) little-lamented Craig Lucas effort Small Tragedy.

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New Yorkers' fourth and final chance this season to catch the work of playwright Julie JordanPrimary Stages' world premiere of Boy—opened May 18. The play follows earlier 2003-04 Manhattan stagings of Jordan's St. Scarlet, Summer of the Swans and Tatjana in Color. If you're a Gotham theatregoer and you still have not formulated an opinion as to Jordan's abilities, you just don't get out enough.

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The theatre's longest-in-coming sequel began May 20 at Hartford Stage. That day, folks got their first glimpse of Edward Albee's new one-act Homelife. The piece is paired with Albee's breakout success, Zoo Story, under the umbrella title of Peter and Jerry. Frank Wood, Johanna Day and Frederick Weller star.

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Finally, the most endearing Don Quixote the New York theatre ever saw, Tony Randall, died this week. For the last 13 years of his long and fruitful life, Randall moved mountains (of people, of money) to create and sustain his dream of a theatre company dedicated to feeding New York audiences with a diet of the classic stage texts Randall cherished. Through sheer effort and enthusiasm, he launched his theatre (National Actors Theatre). Through dogged determinism, he kept it afloat, even after the critics torpedoed show after show. He stuck to his classics formula—European masterpieces for the first three seasons; then a switch to lighter, more popular American fare as times got tougher; then reverting back to the likes of Brecht and Pirandello as the company retreated to the economic shelter of Pace University's facilities. Randall starred in some of these shows, directed others, fundraised for and championed all. His dream may have fallen short of its artistic goals in the eyes of some. But as a supporter and advocate of the stage, no other producer and artistic director—most of them years younger than he and with fewer reasons to grumble—could compare to Randall.

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