...Now for the Helen Hayes Awards
If you wanted diversity in the theater and in theater awards, then that’s what you got at the 29th Annual Helen Hayes Awards before a couple thousand theater pros, actors, designers, company members, fans, supporters, and, oh yes, scribes at the Warner Theater Monday.
No theater company took home a wagon-load of awards—the prestigious best resident play award went to the Folger Theatre production of old-time writ- er William Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” set in a western saloon, no less. It was the only award the production received but numbers probably don’t matter in this long-running celebration of Washington.
It’s what separates this awards show, named after America’s enduringly beloved stage legend Helen Hayes, from the Tonys or the Oscars or any other awards show. Here, members of nominated company’s cheer and whistle loudly when names are announced, appear on a screen, or walk up to the podium in person as winners. It’s all celebratory and personal all at the same time, a big stage rocking to the best of a pretty big world of stages. “Where are the celebrities?” somebody asked me at the Washington Post’s crowded pre- awards reception. I looked around and couldn’t find one. Or rather, I found everybody, because at the Helen Hayes awards, more often than not, everybody’s a celebrity, or a winner, for that matter.
The closest person to the title was Oscar- winning and legendary actress Ellen Burstyn, who, with Actors Equity Association president Nicholas Wyman, accepted the Helen Hayes Tribute award sponsored by Jaylee Mead, the much-beloved and much-missed philanthropist and theater super fan and giver who passed away last year. Burstyn—she starred in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “The Last Picture Show” and “The Exorcist” among many films— did her part with graceful glamour and brevity while the audience watched a mini-documentary about the birth, rise and importance of Actors Equity as an institution that protected actor’s rights in a long drawn-out struggle. Many actors, including Burstyn, were seen proclaiming their equity membership, including Georgetowner Dorothea Hammond, a long-time member of Arena’s repertoire company going back to the 1950s.
Lots of familiar and less familiar folks showed up, among them Ward 4 councilwoman and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser, at-large council member David Grosso, dancer and acting legend Maurice Hines, blue-dress glamorous WRC anchor Wendy Rieger and radio host Kojo Nnamdi.
The Capital Fringe Festival—which comes around again this summer with hordes of new plays, new playwrights, new companies many of which are beyond category—received the Washington Post award for innovative leader- ship, which is putting it mildly, and gave all due glory to Fringe executive director and founding member Julianne Brienza, who accepted the award. And speaking of innovation, there was the company called Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue, which won the John Aniello Award for outstanding emerging troupe and apparently combines burlesque, dance, theater, and unusual music to come up with one-of-a- kind productions.
Here are some highlights of winners, the good, the better and best as well as unusual, and the most unusual of all was the fact that the mostly silent and unusual theater group Synetic Theatre, which usually has heaps of nominations and awards, had none. Children’s theater—as represented this time with Imagination Stage in a collaboration with members of the Washington Ballet—scored big with wins for outstanding ensemble and in the new category of outstanding Production, Theatre for Young Audiences with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Studio’s powerful adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s novel “Invisible Man” won best resident play ensemble.
As already told “Shrew” won the best resident play category, but best resident musical production honors went to Signature Theatre’s dreamy “Dreamgirls,” while best non-resident production honors went to the Theater of Scotland’s second-go-around of “Black Watch,” the astoundingly original and power play about an English regiment in Iraq at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Top performers: Steven Epp for “The Servant of Two Masters” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Francesca Faridany in Michael Kahn’s sterling four-hour adaptation of O’Neill’s “Strange Interlude” at the Shakespeare Theatre for top resident actress; Natascia Diaz, outstanding lead actress in a resident musical in Metro Stage’s “Jacques Brel is Alive And Well and Living in Paris” which also got top director honors for Serge Seiden, and a best actor in a resident musical award for Bobby Smith.
Perennial favorite E. Faye Butler snared a best supporting actress in a resident play for “Pullman Porter Blues. The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical was garnered by Paul Downs Colaizzo for “Really, Really” at Signature Theatre.★