NEW YORK CITY: Webster Hall—with its storied history as a venue for political events, Prohibition-era parties, masquerades, and rock concerts—is a fitting place to celebrate New York’s Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theatre scene. The 62nd annual Obie Awards, which were held at the downtown venue on Monday night, were themed around activism, with signs of resistance and protest decorating both the red carpet and the program.
Before the awards ceremony began, Paula Vogel, who received the lifetime achievement award, reflected back on her career.
“I think about Circle Repertory, which was really a theatre company run by playwrights for playwrights,” Vogel told American Theatre when asked about her career highlights. “The closest thing I’ve found on this earth is the Vineyard Theater. But the one thing that I will tell you, and it became my favorite expression and slogan when I was 24 years old and starting to become a playwright is, ‘The greater delayed, the greater delighted.’ I guess my career is kind of proving that.”
This year marked the third time the the Village Voice and the American Theatre Wing co-presented the event. Lea DeLaria rose to the occasion of hosting the event for the third time, embracing the show’s theme by sharing her personal political commentary throughout the show.
Politics aside, the fun part of the Obies is that there are no fixed awards, nominations, or categories.
“The Obie Awards are not like any other awards show on the…planet,” said DeLaria. “Not like any other. You know why? Because nobody knows who is going to win. They don’t even know that they’ve been nominated. Nobody even knows what the categories are. They made ’em up. It is crazy!”
DeLaria, who won an Obie in 1998 for her performance in On the Town, opened the show with a musical number celebrating the bootstrapping nature of creating theatre with little to no money. She belted out: “My first Off-Broadway show/ There were cushions on milk crates/ The curtain was duct tape/ The audience sweaty and young.”
Other performances during the show included Katrina Lenk performing “Omar Sharif” from The Band’s Visit with Andrea Grody and Garo Yellin. Kecia Lewis, who won an Obie for her performance in Skin of Our Teeth at Theatre for a New Audience and Marie and Rosetta at Atlantic Theatre Company, sang “There’s Only What I Know” with The Skin of Our Teeth cast members Jessie Shelton, Williams Youmans, Austin Reed Alleman, Storm Thomas, and Eric Farber. Daniel Bellomy sang “Try to Remember” as a heartfelt memorial tribute to theatremakers who made their exit in the past year. The final number, a rendition of “Let the Sunshine In,” was performed by DeLaria, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Lena Hall, Steven McWilliams, Craig Baker, Kris Coughlin, Eric Harbin, Jackie Reynolds, Taylor Greatbatch, and Lauren Weinberg.
The judge’s for this year’s awards included Michael Feingold, Ayad Akhtar, Melissa Rose Bernardo, J. Smith Cameron, Darius de Haas, Miriam Felton-Dansky, and Rubin-Vega.
The first award of the evening went to Bartlett Sher and the cast of Oslo for ensemble; playwright J.T. Rogers also received an Obie for Best New American Theatre Work for the play about the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, which began at Lincoln Center Theater’s Off-Broadway space and is currently running in its Broadway space. Rogers shared the award, in a tie with Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R. Sheppard, who received it for Underground Railroad Game at Ars Nova.
Despite DeLaria’s pleas for speeches to omit family and friends for the sake of time, many winners couldn’t help but thank the folks offstage who helped support their work.
“I also want to thank friends and family—I know we weren’t supposed to do that, but I’m going to do it anyway—because I sleep on a lot of couches and I really appreciate that,” said Kidwell to a room of applause.
Matthew Broderick, recognized for his performances in both Shining City at Irish Rep and the New Group’s Evening at the Talk House, also defied the no-family rule. “When I was offered the part, which is basically all monologues in an Irish accent from Dublin, I read it and read it and panicked—and said I didn’t want to do it,” he said. “I said that two weeks before it started. So that was not good. And my son said, ‘Dad, get out of your comfort zone. You can do it.’ So I listened to him. So I did it.”
Rogers thanked his mother. “I grew up two-and-a half blocks from here, raised by a single mother when you could have an apartment for $200 and you could still barely feed your two sons for $6 at Veselka,” he said. “This is what I’ve wanted my whole life. So I thank my mother, who had no money but decided that instead of seeing the Star Wars film, we would go see Jeff Weiss across the street.”
Bobby Cannavale was honored for his performance in The Hairy Ape at the Park Avenue Armory, and he too noted the Circle Rep in his acceptance speech. “When I was 21 years old, I was taken under Lanford Wilson’s wing at the Circle Rep, and there were many Obie winners there,” he said. “I got to see a lot of them work from Bill Hoffman to Milan Stitt, from Tanya Berezin to Paula Vogel—whose play Baltimore Waltz was being done at the time. It was 1993 and I was really young. I am really honored to be here. I can’t tell you how much it means for me to be up here.”
In addition to sentimental speeches, the evening was filled with a lot of rowdy cheers and jubilation. The cast of The Wolves received an Obie for the ensemble, and Lauren Patten, who played the team captain in the play about a high school soccer team, accepted the award.
“As my character would say, teamwork makes the dream work,” she said. “We share this award with Sarah DeLappe, our playwright. Her sensitivity, her well of humor, her truth—I could go on and on—but she created this team and this world that we got to act in. We also share this with our director and our coach Lila Neugebauer, who kicked our ass and trained us like a real soccer team. She really made us the unit that we became.”
The complete list of award recipients is below.
Best New American Theatre Work ($500 prize each)
Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R. Sheppard, Underground Railroad Game (Ars Nova)
J.T. Rogers, Oslo (Lincoln Center Theater)
Christopher Chen, Caught (the Play Company at La MaMa)
Lynn Nottage, Sweat (the Public Theater)
Itamar Moses (book) and David Yazbek (music & lyrics), The Band’s Visit (Atlantic Theater Company)
Arin Arbus, The Skin of Our Teeth (Theatre for a New Audience)
Lileana Blain-Cruz, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World (Signature Theatre Company)
David Cromer, The Band’s Visit (Atlantic Theater Company)
Jack Cummings III, Picnic (Transport Group)
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent (Vineyard Theatre)
Bartlett Sher (director) and the cast of Oslo (Lincoln Center Theater)
Michael Aronov, Anthony Azizi, Adam Dannheisser, Jennifer Ehle, Daniel Jenkins, Dariush Kashani, Jeb Kreager, Jefferson Mays, Christopher McHale, Daniel Oreskes, Angela Pierce, Henny Russell, Joseph Siravo, T. Ryder Smith
Lila Neugebauer (director) and the cast of The Wolves (the Playwrights Realm)
Kate Arrington, Mia Barron, Brenna Coates, Jenna Dioguardi, Samia Finnerty, Midori Francis, Lizzy Jutila, Sarah Mezzanotte, Tedra Millan, Lauren Patten, Susannah Perkins
Matthew Broderick, Evening at the Talk House (The New Group) and Shining City (Irish Repertory Theatre)
Bobby Cannavale, The Hairy Ape (Park Avenue Armory)
Kevin Geer, Sustained Excellence [in memoriam]
Kecia Lewis, Marie and Rosetta (Atlantic Theater Company) and The Skin of Our Teeth (Theatre for a New Audience)
Heather MacRae, Come Back, Little Sheba (Transport Group)
Amy Ryan, Love, Love, Love (Roundabout Theatre Company)
Pete Simpson, Sustained Excellence
Michael Urie, Homos, or Everyone in America (Labyrinth Theater Company)
Riccardo Hernandez, Sustained Excellence of Set Design
Dane Laffrey, Sustained Excellence of Set and Costume Design
Jared Mezzocchi, Projection Design, Vietgone (Manhattan Theatre Club)
Ryan Rumery, Sustained Excellence of Sound Design
Scott Zielinski, Sustained Excellence of Lighting Design
Anna Deavere Smith, Notes from the Field (Second Stage Theater)
Taylor Mac, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (St. Ann’s Warehouse)
Obie Grants ($4,000 prize each)
Irish Repertory Theatre
Pearl Theatre Company
The Playwrights Realm
The Ross Wetzsteon Award ($3,000 prize)
Theatre for a New Audience
Lifetime Achievement Award