The Winners of the Heilpern Awards 2001 Are…

The nation–and the theater community in particular–can wait no longer. Before announcing the proud winners of our 2001 Theater Awards, however, we wish to stress that all decisions of the Awards Committee are final according to the provisions set out in subsection 2(b), paragraph 52(e), of the Awards Committee Constitution.

Who is the Committee?

The Committee be me. But rest assured, my friends, all is always fairly adjudicated here. And the envelopes, please!

The Ben Brantley Award for the Most Amazing Observations in the History of Theater goes to … my goodness! It’s Ben Brantley, chief drama critic of The New York Times ! The three-time winner of the prestigious award named after him is, of course, the inventor of the unique body-part aesthetic that first caught the Committee’s attention with his rave review of the performance of Maxwell Caufield’s penis–”once again on unabashed display (every inch)”–in the unforgettable gay romp My Night with Reg .

Ben’s body-part aesthetic has also admired the “sly, sad” feet of Michael Gambon in David Hare’s Skylight , as well as–and most appropriately–Hallie Foote’s feet in The Last of the Thorntons . (“Watching her feet move becomes enough to make you cry.”) Then again, there was the “curving, flexing and shrugging” of Alan Bates’ shoulders in The Unexpected Man , though it was the masterly performance of Eileen Atkins’ right leg in the same play that wrong-footed those of us who feel that her left leg has always been the superior actor.

“Shall we start with Eileen Atkins’s right leg?” he began his review. “It is, like her left leg, slender and shapely, and it has no doubt served this fine actress well over the years as something to stand on.”

Moving right along, the legs that Anna Friel stood on in Frank Wedekind’s Lulu –”Ms. Friel is standing on a pair of extremely lethal weapons”–as well as the epiphany of Sir Ian McKellen’s performing feet in Dance of Death , “shooting sparks in the dark mouth of mortality,” took the astonished eye this season. “Lumbering across the long stage of the Broadhurst,” our Ben wrote, “Mr. McKellen brings something frightening and majestic to the act of putting one wayward foot before the other …. ”

To business! The Best Actor Award goes to Adrian Lester for his performance earlier this season as Hamlet in Peter Brook’s production of the most hackneyed great play in history. The Committee is aware of Mr. McKellen’s fine contribution, as well as the admired, twitchy Iago of Liev Schreiber and the raved-over portly prince of Simon Russell Beale in the Royal National Theatre’s Hamlet . The scintillating Mr. Lester made clear how much, and how terribly, Hamlet’s young life is stolen from him in this wormy, unjust world. His is the performance that surprised us the most, the one we best remember.

The nominees for Best Actress are Helen Mirren (a personal favorite of the Committee) for Dance of Death ; Kate Burton for Hedda Gabler ; Sarah Jessica Parker for Wonder of the World ; newcomer Christina Kirk for the weirdly named [sic] ; and Elaine Stritch for being Elaine Stritch. And the winner is … we have a surprise. The winner is the remarkable Christina Kirk. Ms. Mirren has won a million awards, and Ms. Stritch is about to. Let’s embrace the new for once. Ms. Kirk’s experience comes via the commitment and struggle of the Off Off Broadway scene. Her fresh talent is refined, assured and lovely. We have the feeling she can do anything. Christina Kirk is our Actress of the Year.

The Best Comedy goes to [sic] , Melissa James Gibson’s modern Design for Living , which in its sly, droll way is the wittiest comedy of manners I’ve seen in many a season. This is the year of [sic] ! Apart from Best Actress Ms. Kirk, its director, Daniel Aukin of Soho Rep, takes our award for Best Director.

The Special Citation for Best Ensemble goes to the entire company of Mary Zimmerman’s tender, transforming Metamorphoses .

The Pure of Heart Award goes to Rocco Landesman and all the other shyster producers of The Producers , for raising the top ticket price to $480 while hooking into the Twin Towers Fund. They say the fund will receive a percentage of the new ticket price for “several months.” My, how time flies.

The award for Best Foreign Play is between Tom Stoppard’s meditation on love, scholarship and A.E. Housman, The Invention of Love ; Théâtre de Complicité’s extraordinary experiment, Mnemonic ; the Theatre for a New Audience’s bold choice of Edward Bond’s little-known seminal 1960’s British drama, Saved ; and P.S. 122’s import earlier in the year of Howie the Rookie , by the brilliant new Irish dramatist Mark O’Rowe. The award in a close, good fight goes to the original, savage voice and gutter poetry of Howie the Rookie . Mr. O’Rowe breaks with the Holy Trinity of Guinness, goblins and ghoulies and abandons the backwater blarney about the usual Irish werewolves and murderous old crones pissing in porridge pots to give us, at last, the authentic Dublin underclass going down swinging in the crossfire.

The Best Theater Book of the Year Award goes to our First Lady of Theater, Zoe Caldwell, for her touching and wise–and very unpretentious–memoir of her early years, I Will Be Cleopatra: An Actress’s Journey (W.W. Norton & Company). This born actress turns out to be a born writer. Not only that, she doesn’t care for name dropping. Not only that , we love her.

The Worst Musical Ever and Proud of It Award goes to … we have a surprise. It’s those wild and crazy Spandex Swedes, ABBA, back where they belong with their smash-hit British musical set in a Greek taverna, Mamma Mia! Come on all you dancing queens, feel the beat from the tambourine! The dire disco musical about coming of age in the shadow of kebabs and single parenthood was recently replaced in our charts by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s soon-to-depart By Jeeves . This is what happens when you try to be nice. Hundreds of e-mails were received in protest, pointing out that not even Andrew Lloyd Webber could be worse than ABBA. Upon mature reflection, the Committee solemnly bows to popular demand. Congratulations, Mamma Mia! –still the worst musical ever and proud of it.

The Why Ask for the Moon When We Have the Stars Award goes to Mike Nichols for The Seagull .

The Best Lingerie Award goes to Isaac Mizrahi for The Women . The Best Brazilian Bikini Wax Award goes to the charming Jennifer Tilly in The Women .

The newly instituted Lifetime Achievement Award goes to an actor whom perhaps you might not know. Some 45 years ago, Henry Woolf, a schoolmate of Harold Pinter and his oldest friend, directed Mr. Pinter’s first performed play, The Room , at the University of Bristol. Mr. Woolf also played the small but key role of the mysterious landlord. In the celebration of Pinter plays during the Summer Festival, The Room was revived and meticulously directed by Harold Pinter. And there was the unmistakable Henry Woolf–who’s five-foot-nothing–reprising the role of the landlord for old time’s sake. He had us in stitches of laughter just by sitting in a chair whose very existence seemed to puzzle him. Mr. Woolf has been a yeoman actor since he wrote to Mr. Pinter, then starting out as a repertory actor in provincial England, asking if he should try the acting lark, too. “What do you want to go into this shit house for?” Mr. Pinter replied. But Mr. Woolf did anyway, and he’s been delighting audiences ever since.

You might have noticed how the Committee has cleverly avoided naming a Best Play. We must await the opening of Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul , the epic he began years ago when he became fascinated by Afghanistan. If there were a Clairvoyancy Award, it would be his.

Mr. Kushner is one of the very few dramatists in America to bring the outside world onstage, the public arena into the private. Our New Year’s wish for our theater is that it now move on from comforting escapism to contemporary dramas of ideas and compassion and consequence. Perhaps Homebody/Kabul will show the way.

Happier, peaceful times everyone. The Winners of the Heilpern Awards 2001 Are…