Helen Hayes Nominations: Some Surprising Omissions

Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Musical Nominee:  Nova Y. Payton  for Dreamgirls at Signature Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Musical Nominee: Nova Y. Payton for Dreamgirls at Signature Theatre

Just when you think you might have a handle on the annual Helen Hayes Awards and the plays, artists and companies which get nominations every year, they throw you for an Oscar-like loop—you know, the one where Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for a best director award for “Argo.”

This year’s major mysteries for the 29th annual Helen Hayes Awards announced earlier this week would appear to be the omission of veteran and oft-awarded and nominated actor Edward Gero for his bravura performance as the expressionist painter Mark Rothko in the Arena Stage production of “Red,” which was also not on the list of nominations for outstanding resident production, although director Robert Fall did get a nod for the production.

Stranger still was the fact that Synetic Theatre—the Georgian-led (as in the Republic of Georgia) troupe which specializes in highly stylized and totally original plays without dialogue and silent Shakespeare, which annually gets a slew of nominations and usually wins quite a few of them,—did not get a single nomination, an unlikely and odd turn of events strange enough to be called mysterious. It’s not likely that the company experienced a huge dropoff in quality in term of artistic excellence all at once, but there you are.

But, on the other hand, you can’t really complain about results per se—what the nominations almost always reveal is the excellence, the range and the sheer variety and size of the Washington theatre community. It’s a big tent approach. This year, Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, Md., with its production of “The Color Purple” got eight nominations in a category usually dominated by Signature Theater, which was right up there, too, with seven for its production of “Dreamgirls.”

Then there was Imagination Stages, a theatre specializing in plays for young people, which landed two best directors for musicals (as opposed to musical direction) for Janet Stanford and “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” (also up for a best ensemble award) and Kathryn Chase Bryer for “Rapunzel.”

Arena Stage itself led with a total of 18 nominations if you’re counting—with a variety of nominations for several plays, including “My Fair Lady,” “The Music Man,” “Pullman Porter Blues," “Red Hot Patriot” and “One Night With Janis Joplin” among seven productions. Kathleen Turner—star turn—was nominated for best actress in a resident play, and Mary Bridet Davies—star turn—was nominated for outstanding actress in a musical for playing—let’s say channeling—Janis Joplin.

Direction seems to have been a stickler—six were nominated for outstanding director of a resident musical, including Toby Orenstein (founder of Toby’s) and Lawrence Munsey, and eight were nominated for best director of a resident play—Shakespeare Theatre Company's artistic director Michael Kahn for “The Government Inspector,” and Ethan McSweeny for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Christopher Bayes for “The Servant of Two Masters,” all Shakespeare Theatre Company productions among them, along with Aaron Posner, Robert Falls, Kirsten Kelly and John Vreeke.

Here’s your lineup for top resident musicals: “1776,” a top notch, clear-eyed production from Ford’s Theatre; “The Color Purple” from Toby’s Dinner Theatre; “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” from MetroStage; “Dreamgirls” from Signature and “Spring Awakening” from Keegan Theatre.

And here’s your lineup for top resident play: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare Theatre Company; Woolly Mammoth’s scintillatingly staged wrestling drama “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”; “Invisible Man,” Studio Theatre’s nervy and moving adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s novel; Theater J’s powerful “Our Class” and Folger Theatre’s Wild West set production of “The Taming of the Shrew.”

For a complete listing of the awards, visit theatrewashington.org. The Helen Hayes awards will be presented April 8 at the Warner Theatre.

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Sun, 28 May 2017 12:29:42 -0400

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