From out front – The Awards show
(filed by Debbie Jackson)
The theme that seemed to permeate the Helen Hayes Awards Ceremony this year was gentle kindness and appreciation for the arts and one’s fellow artists. Acceptance speeches were more humble and gracious than usual, no rants, no tirades, or loud explosive bits. “Just, wow—I didn’t expect to receive this award. No—really. Thank you.” Of course, not that short, some awardees read off names from the obligatory list of people to acknowledge. But even then, the names were read with consideration and care, not just crossed off a checklist.
What helped set the tone was teaming the powerhouse vocal cute as a button Felicia Curry with theatrical wonder woman Holly Twyford as co-hosts for a winning combination. Some might consider their extensive costume changes, one for each of their five entrances, a bit much, but actually at the end, it all worked out because it wasn’t as much a fashion show as a path to tell a story.
When they came out as their respective children’s show characters – Twyford from If you Give a Pig a Pancake and Curry from Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse—they demonstrated the growing importance of family theater as part of the theatrical landscape. That message was already quite apparent from the numerous nominations of Adventure’s A Year with Frog and Toad throughout and culminated with Michael Bobbitt accepting the award for their production of Charlotte’s Web.
Big winners were Synetic’s King Lear and Signature’s Hairspray, both with enough awards to make one chagrined to high heaven if you missed them. Each were winners of the Outstanding Ensemble award – for resident play and resident musical respectively, and they gathered for their acceptance speeches with Robert Aubry Davis as the designated pinch hitter for the latter, and Irakli Kavsadze from Synetic who lovingly teased about the recurring pronouncing of his name challenges, all good natured, no bullying or bully pulpit or show-boating.
By the time special guest awardee Kevin Spacey took the helm, the crowd was prepped and ready. After a montage of his amazing body of work, he was given a tribute from Bill Clinton via video, after which Spacey relayed a touching account of Clinton’s own mastery of details and care for his friends. It still all came down to kindness and friendship. Another stunning moment: Arena’s Director of Community Engagement Anita Maynard-Losh first came to the stage to accept the award for Ruined, then she called for actresses Jenny Jules and Donnetta Lavinia Grays from the show to join her onstage where they described the play to keep us mindful about the ongoing atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It was a fitting ending to the caring event, especially when the co-hosts returned in gorgeous sweeping yet frilly costumes, identical except color, one passionate pink and the other teal, and a rousing musical number to see Everybody at an upcoming theater Somewhere! And to give money to theatreWashington’s ‘Taking Care of Our Own’, an organization developed to support artists in need.
Whoever directed, aimed for entertainment steeped in love– and it worked. The musical numbers were a blast with George Hummel as conductor and fun-filled lyrics by Renee Calarco. The show was an irresistible tribute to the heart and soul of the Washington D.C. theater community.
The recipients of the 28th Annual Helen Hayes Awards:
(commentary by Tim Treanor)
The spirited celebration of the 2011 theatrical season was notable for the unusually even distribution of awards throughout Washington’s large and diverse theatrical community. Fourteen companies shared the twenty-two resident awards, and no company received more than five.
Two very different plays – Arena Stage’s Ruined, a harrowing tale of war and rape in the Congo, and Signature’s Hairspray, in which young Baltimoreans strike a blow for integration and common sense using rock-n-roll – were named outstanding resident play and outstanding resident musical in last night’s 28th annual Helen Hayes Awards.
Adventure Theatre’s production of Charlotte’s Web received the award for Outstanding Production, Theatre for Young Audiences and the Marc Acito’s Birds of a Feather received recognition for Hub Theatre as the Outstanding New Play or Musical.
Mitchell Hébert, who played a ruminative lawyer in Arthur Miller’s After the Fall patterned after Miller himself, received the Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Resident Play, and Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, who played a self-destructive singer-actor patterned after Marilyn Monroe in the same Theater J production, was lauded as the Outstanding Supporting Actress.
Erica Sullivan, who transformed herself from an airheaded wannabe actor into a formidable dominatrix in Studio’s Venus in Fur, and Rena Cherry Brown, playing a cancer-riddled pedant who redeems her own humanity by finally understanding the poetry she has taught all her adult life in Bay Theatre’s Wit, shared an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Resident Play.
The Helen Hayes Awards also celebrated Carolyn Cole, who played a zaftig teenager who won a long-desired place in Baltimore’s Corny Collins dance show and proceeded to turn the city upside down, as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Resident Musical, and Euan Morton, who played a grim, Jewish executive wrongly accused of murder and eventually lynched by a mob inflamed by bigotry in Parade, as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Resident Musical. Parade was a co-production between Theater J and Ford’s Theatre. Hairspray’s Nova Payton, cast as Motormouth Maybelle, the dynamic African-American doyenne of the Corny Collins Show’s “Negro Day”, was cited as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Resident Musical.
In addition to awards for Resident Musical and individual performances, Hairspray received awards for Outstanding Ensemble for a Resident Musical and Outstanding Musical Direction for a Resident Production (Jon Kalbfleisch).
The Awards for Outstanding Direction of a Resident Play went to Aaron Posner, whose Cyrano at Folger’s Shakespeare Theatre featured an adaptation of Rostand’s story which he co-wrote with Michael Hollander (Opus), and for Outstanding Direction of a Resident Musical went to Michael Baron, for his work on Adventure Theatre’s A Year with Frog and Toad.
The Helen Hayes Awards also recognized the work of Ted van Griethuysen, who played the buffoonish Dogberry in the Shakespeare Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing, as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Resident Play, and Matthew Delorenzo, an eye-popping Candy Darling in Studio’s POP!, as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Resident Musical.
Synetic’s King Lear collected a wide variety of citations, being recognized for Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Play; Outstanding Choreography, Resident Production (Ben Cunis and Irini Tsikurishvili); Outstanding Lighting Design, Resident Production (Andrew Griffin) and Outstanding Sound Design, Resident Production (Konstantine Lortkipanidze and Irakli Kavsadze, which they shared with Chris Bane for his work on Woolly’s Bright New Boise.)
Kendra Rai’s costume design for Constellation’s The Green Bird, and Lee Savage’s Cuban plantation set for the Shakespeare Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing received the awards for costume and set design.
On the non-resident side of things – a category customarily dominated by plays which use the Kennedy Center as a venue – this year’s Helen Hayes awards marked a shift to Washington’s sleek new theaters as sites for award-winning touring productions. The Steppenwolf Theatre’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Arena was cited as the Outstanding Non-Resident Production, and Sahr Ngaujah was recognized as outstanding lead actor in a non-resident production for his work in FELA!, a touring production which played at Shakespeare Theatre’s Sidney Harman Hall. The Kennedy Center was the venue for the return of the Sydney Theatre Company, this time bringing Uncle Vanya, which received recognition for Cate Blanchette as outstanding lead actress in a non-resident production and for Hugo Weaving, outstanding supporting performer in a non-resident production.
As announced earlier, the commedia dell’arte troupe, Faction of Fools, received the John Aniello award as Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company.
Curtain Call: Tributes to the Helen Hayes Awards and its nominees by:
Will Gartshore, Reggie Ray, Joshua Morgan, Matthew M. Nielson,
Floyd King, Matthew Gardiner, Kimberly Gilbert, Karen Zacarias,
Derek Goldman, James Kronzer, Howard Shalwitz, George Fulginiti-Shakar
and David Tannous