To quote the lusty lyric from the much-loved The Scarlet Pimpernel , “So it’s into the fire we go!” Here, then, are my theater awards for the past season and my wishes for the new.
The award for the worst introduction to any show in the history of theater goes to Spalding Gray. At the start of his latest narcissistic monologue, Morning, Noon, and Night at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, the ex-radical stunned us all with the solemn, somewhat untheatrical announcement: “I will be signing copies of my book in the lobby after the show.”
He then proceeded blithely with his monologue about middle-aged fatherhood in Sag Harbor. Congratulations, Spalding!
The I-Don’t-Believe-My-Eyes Award goes to my favorite lesbian comedienne-singer, Lea DeLaria, for possessing the fun (and the courage) during her eclectic Christmas cabaret at Joe’s Pub to appear unexpectedly in a coconut bra and grass skirt while singing a rousing rendition of the Hawaiian “Mele Kalikimaka.”
The Best New-Wave Irish Play Award goes to T.E. Golway’s sparkling seriocomedy, Where Has All the Guinness Gone , the Olivier Award-winning drama that’s heading to Broadway later this season via the Royal Court Theater Company, London, and the Gnome Theater Company, Galway. Guinness rivals even the Gothic backwater hellholes of Martin McDonagh’s renowned Leenane Trilogy in its shattering portrait of homicidal Irish family life. Inspired by Sean O’Casey and Alfred Hitchcock, this elegiac memory play about a granny’s piss pot and a beautiful raven-haired member of Riverdance who falls in love with a werewolf is sure to take the Tony for best play this season.
The Best Musical Award goes happily to Cole Porter and Kiss Me, Kate for solving the eternal dilemma of which show to send your mom to for a great night out. Or anyone else! I recently gave a 22nd-birthday prezzie of three orchestra seats to a lovely friend of mine so she could see the show, and only felt slightly ill when I had to cough up $243. My goodness! I hadn’t a clue how much tickets actually cost. (Critics don’t pay for their seats.) It’s an outrage!
But why did each ticket cost 81 smackaroos? Why the extra dollar? You can rely on me to make the necessary inquiries. The extra dollar is an involuntary charge for the upkeep and restoration of Jujamcyn theaters. What? At the Martin Beck Theater alone-where Kiss Me, Kate is playing to packed houses-that’s over $500,000 a year from we public benefactors. What are they restoring-Versailles? But should we be restoring their Broadway theaters, or should they?
There is no Best Actor Award this year. It has been a season thus far of outstandingly fine performances from several actresses. The award for best actress goes to Charlayne Woodard for her fantastic performance as Hester La Negrita in Suzan-Lori Parks’ In the Blood . The tremendous love and waste and heartbreak within Ms. Woodard’s utterly natural performance touched all hearts.
I wrote of Ms. Parks’ In the Blood that it speaks to us of a living black history of cruelty and suffering and punishing fate in the marrow of its heroine’s bones. Ms. Parks’ signal achievement here is to have put people we ignore, and never know, on stage. The Best New Play Award is for In the Blood .
We have a tie for best actress in a comedy (provided, of course, that we discount Dame Edna, the Australian diva). The shared Best Actress in a Comedy Award goes to Cynthia Nixon for her needy WASP divorcée in Douglas Carter Beane’s The Country Club , and to J. Smith-Cameron for her deadpan amnesiac heroine in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers . They are both among the most gifted actresses in the country.
Mr. Lindsay-Abaire, a manic farceur with an original mind, surprises us all the way to the nut house and receives my Most Promising Dramatist Award, bummer though it is to be labeled “promising.”
Both Ms. Cameron-Smith and Ms. Nixon are key members of the Drama Dept., the Off Off Broadway company that began five years ago and has been doing terrific work ever since. I’m thinking particularly of June Moon , the forgotten American comedy by Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman; Tennessee Williams’ little known Kingdom of Earth ; a bold-too bold!-deconstruction of Uncle Tom’s Cabin ; and Mr. Beane’s own stylish comedies.
My Keep-Going-Whatever-It-Takes Award goes to the Drama Dept. and its playwright-artistic director, Douglas Carter Beane.
The Best Theater Book of the Year Award goes to How Good Is David Mamet, Anyway? Writings on Theater-and Why It Matters , by me (published by Routledge). What a marvelous selection of theater pieces Me has made! There’s even a transcript of a lunch with Gielgud and Richardson. What more can Me say?
The runner-up for Best Theater Book of the Year is The Conference of the Birds: The Story of Peter Brook in Africa , also by me (now republished by Routledge). And now Me has gone too far even for me. By the way, I’ll be signing copies in the lobby after the show.
I’ve also been enjoying Mel Gussow’s definitive biography Edward Albee: A Singular Journey (Simon & Schuster), and David Hare’s Acting Up (Faber & Faber), his diary of the time he spent performing his one-man play Via Dolorosa . Mr. Hare isn’t too gracious about his so-called slave-driving producers at Lincoln Center Theater and its wealthy patrons. But no one should take offense. It is the charming custom of the Englishman abroad to eat his host out of house and home and then complain when all the champagne runs out.
The Deranged Dramatist of the Year Award goes to Nicky Silver. Should a wild thing start shouting at you at the end of a play by Mr. Silver, do not establish eye contact and keep walking. He is Mr. Silver himself, who has been known to berate members of his audience for not applauding enough. Take every care. It happened to me; it could happen to you.
The French Canadian genius Robert Lepage takes the Best Avant-Garde Theater Award for his tremendous Act 1 of Geometry of Miracles . A special citation to that avant-garde Victorian gem for children and adults, Shockheaded Peter , from London’s fringe. But Mr. Lepage can seem light years ahead of anyone else. In his thrilling marriage of imagination and technology, he reminds us that the heart of all theater is in its playfulness. He creates plays playfully. Alas, he also reminds us that the new avant-garde generation in America has yet to be born.
And so to my three wishes for the New Year:
No more miniature doll houses onstage, please. (The latest example can be seen in The Rainmaker .) The curtain goes up and what do we see? A dinky doll house or two in the distance. Sometimes a dinky little train. Other times a dinky doll house and a dinky little train. But no longer …
I would like to see subscription lists firebombed. They don’t always account for safe, sleepy repertoires, but they often seem to. Who will risk offending a regular customer?
And, as always-particularly at the start of a brave new American century-I wish for an end to all forms of Anglophilia in the American theater. It should be the pride and pleasure of every producer in the land to support American writers and artists rather than kneel cravenly before any old British import that comes our way.
Happy New Year, everyone!