NEW YORK CITY: With no set categories or nominees, the pressure is off and the party is on at the annual Obie Awards for New York’s Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theatre scene. This year’s, the 60th annual, held once again at the rock concert venue Webster Hall on Monday, May 18, was no exception.
This time out, longtime presenter Village Voice joined forces with the American Theatre Wing to copresent the awards. “The Obies have such a rich tradition, and to be able to put some of the American Theatre Wing stamp on it and to work with [host] Lea DeLaria to put together an evening to honor the great artistry that has happened but also be really entertaining—it is exhilarating,” said Heather Hitchens, executive director of the American Theatre Wing, in an interview before the show.
DeLaria said she was thrilled to be taking the reins for the night—she said “yes” immediately when offered the gig. DeLaria is no stranger to the awards ceremony, having snagged an Obie in 1998 for her performance in the Public Theater’s On the Town.
DeLaria demonstrated her vocal chops in the opening song “Welcome to My Party,” from The Wild Party. And with that, the Obies’ own wild party began.
Presenters included Sting, Jesse Eisenberg, Tommy Tune, Stockard Channing, Lisa Kron, T.R. Knight, LaChanze, Bradley Theodore, Tony Kushner, Billy Crudup, William Ivey Long and Tom Finkel.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Andy Blankenbuehler,Thomas Kail and Alex Lacamoire from Hamiliton took home the first Obie of the night for the best new American theatre work.
Clare Barron’s You Got Older, which premiered at HERE, received three awards; Anne Kauffman for direction, Brooke Bloom for performance and Barron for playwriting. “This is the coolest award ceremony—the work that gets celebrated at this ceremony is work I really respond to and want to make, and I am really happy to be here,” said Bloom before the show. Said Barron after taking home her award, “I am so honored to be here. I didn’t ever expect this to happen, and it’s even better to happen among peers that I respect so much and that are role models to me.”
Another celebrated production was The Invisible Hand, which received Obies for playwright Ayad Akhtar and performer Usman Ally. “It was a great play at a fantastic theatre,” said Ally before the show, which ran at New York Theatre Workshop. “It is a play about global finance and terrorism and a variety of major global events—it sort of deals with people’s misconceptions about Islam and about the East and the relationships America has with the East. So it is very heady, but exciting and fun, and we had a fantastic cast.”
Performances for the evening included a rendition of “What I Did for Love” by Natalie Cortez in remembrance of the artists the theatre community lost in the past year. Michael Cerveris, Tony-nominated for Fun Home, performed “Mack the Knife” as an homage to The Threepenny Opera, the first musical to be awarded at the inaugural Obie Awards in 1956. The night’s showstopper was DeLaria’s interpretive dance to thank the events sponsors, which she spiritedly performed in a leotard and a Sleep No More mask.
James Houghton, founding artistic director of Signature Theatre, received an Obie for Sustained Achievement. Houghton recently announced his departure from Signature for health reasons.
“It’s been amazing—when we first started the company, the very first year our first writer Romulus received a Sustained Excellence award, and we all came and we were all so proud,” said Houghton before the show. “It’s a real embrace from the community, from peers. No matter how long you’ve been at it, it’s guerrilla warfare” to make theatre, so “to be in this room and be celebrated by and with them—it’s a real honor, a total honor. The real deal.” In his acceptance speech, Houghton credited the magic of the city and the guts of the Off-Off-Broadway community for opening up possibilities when he first started out in New York.
Overall, the feeling of the evening was that of a family party, honoring a community whose members have nurtured, encouraged and supported each other for many years. Christine Jones, winner of an Obie for her design for Let the Right One In, said that attendees were not separated by six degrees but by just one. Thanks to DeLaria’s admonition that honorees thank their agents and parents after the ceremony—a running joke throughout the evening—the awards hastily and unexpectedly wrapped up in under two and a half hours.
The complete list of awardees:
Usman Ally, The Invisible Hand (New York Theatre Workshop)
Firdous Bamji, Indian Ink (Roundabout Theatre Company)
Brooke Bloom, You Got Older (Page 73 and HERE Arts Center)
Stephen McKinley Henderson, Between Riverside and Crazy (Atlantic Theater Company and Second Stage Theatre)
John Douglas Thompson, Tamburlaine (Theatre for a New Audience) and The Iceman Cometh (BAM)
April Matthis, Sustained Excellence of Performance
Ayad Akhtar, The Invisible Hand (New York Theatre Workshop)
Clare Barron, You Got Older (Page 73 and HERE Arts Center)
Suzan-Lori Parks, Father Comes Home From the Wars Parts I, II, & III (Public Theater)
Trip Cullman, Punk Rock (MCC Theater)
Darko Tresnjak, The Killer (Theatre for a New Audience)
Anne Kauffman, Sustained Excellence of Direction
Abigail DeVille, Prophetika: An Oratorio (La MaMa)
Christine Jones, Sustained Excellence of Set Design
Ben Stanton, Sustained Excellence of Lighting Design
Japhy Weideman, Sustained Excellence of Lighting Design
Kate Benson (writer) and Lee Sunday Evans (director), A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes (New Georges)
Bootycandy, writer/director Robert O’Hara, and actors Philip James Brannon, Jessica Frances Dukes, Jesse Pennington, Benja Kay Thomas, Lance Coadie Williams (Playwrights Horizons)
Catch (performance series), Andrew Dinwiddie, Caleb Hammons, Jeff Larson
Bridget Everett, Rock Bottom (Public Theater)
Bush Moukarzel and Dead Centre, Lippy (Abrons Arts Center)
Andrew Schneider, Youarenowhere (PS 122 / COIL Festival)
OBIE Grants ($2,500 to each theatre)
Horse Trade Theater Group / The Fire This Time Festival
JACK (Arts Center)
The Ross Wetzsteon Award (includes $1,000 check)
Best New American Theatre Work (includes $1,000 check)
Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, direction by Thomas Kail, arrangements/orchestrations/music direction by Alex Lacamoire (Public Theater)
Sustained Achievement Award