Thursday, April 28, 2011

Theatre Droppings: Acceptance Speech

I had a very active week, theatrically speaking, and I'm sure you're dying to read all about it. I attended several offerings by local theaters, and topped it all off with our area's annual Drama Prom.

On Thursday, I took the Metro out to Imagination Stage in Bethesda, to see the newest musical written by my old friend and employer, Joan Cushing. Joan is a bit of a theatrical institution in the DC area, having created the long-running musical revue Mrs. Foggybottom and Friends, which had a multi-year run at the swanky Omni Shoreham Hotel's cabaret room. That revue ultimately became a roving entertainment, with Joan booking the show into conventions, parties, and the like. During its final seasons, I was a member of the group (in fact, it was my first professional gig here in DC after finishing grad school), and I had a blast singing Joan's hilarious parody songs.

I was sorry when she disbanded the troop, but her own composing career was taking off, and she has now found a niche adapting well-known children's books into new musicals for kids. Her latest is based on a series of stories concerning the friendship of two hippos, evocatively named George and Martha. Two Tons of Fun at Imagination Stage boasts two swell performances by M.J. Casey and Sandra Murphy as the hippopotomi in question, and Joan's score serves the gentle humor well. The mostly pre-school audience was entranced.

On Sunday, I moved from Family Entertainment to Adult Fare. Factory 449's Magnificent Waste is a pretty scathing treatise on art and consumerism, and features a group of very unlikeable characters. The striking thing about this production was the full integration of live action and video, which I understand is one of the tenants of this new company. I was hoping to run into the group's producer, Rick Hammerly, with whom I have shared a stage and even the same role, but he was not around. He was probably working on his killer acceptance speech for Monday's Helen Hayes Awards, during which he had us rolling in the aisles while receiving the Emerging Theatre Company Award.

But before I get to the area's Biggest Cast Party, as the Hayzies are often called, I have to mention the show I saw on Saturday. Sandwiched between the sweet lyricism of two hippos negotiating friendship, and a group of narcissists negotiating art deals, I saw one of the best things I've seen in a long time:

I was drawn to the show due to the presence in its cast of this guy:

Parker Drown played one of my sons in Joe's Coat recently, and was in rehearsal for S&D during our run. The press on this show has been dynamite, and deservedly so. Parker and his two cohorts successfully evoke the angst of the teenager struggling with matters both sexual and mature. Despite the brief appearance of a teacher and a reporter, the adult population is absent from this show, which reinforces one of the dominant themes of S&D, the virtual (if not actual) absence of adult influence in these kids' lives. The play says so much more, though, and I was very glad to have been able to catch it.

Monday night was the Big Night in DC Theatre, the Annual Helen Hayes Awards.

I don't attend every year, but when I do go, I am always glad I did. The reception held after the awards is the biggest shmoozefest in the area, and I always run into someone I have not seen in a long while. Particularly, I was pleased to spend a bit of time chatting with Catie Flye, who directed me in Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush many years ago, and with Vinnie Lancisi, who did the same with Vigil up at his home base, Everyman Theater. I sat for a while with the lovely Nan and Ray Ficca, who are buddies from way back, and with whom I have a tradition of sharing a Thanksgiving dinner. I was also pleased to see at least a few of my Joe's Coat crowd. That reception is huge, spanning several large ballrooms and the lobbies in between, so it is very easy to miss a lot of other attendees.

As for the awards themselves, well, I saw a good many of the shows nominated, and a good many more which were not. I am sure everyone who won was deserving. The major buzz on everyone's lips seemed to be the fact that, in the past several years, there have been so many ties. The scoring of the Hayzies has been explained to me several times, it seems quite straightforward; I certainly don't know the reasoning behind so many awards being given out in duplicate. The HH website reports that, in case of a tie in the scoring, a "tie breaking system" is used, but there is no explanation of what that system might be. Clearly, it's not definitive, as a whopping five categories were split this year, all of them major awards. There were two Outstanding Actors in Musicals, and also two Outstanding Actors in Plays. There were two Outstanding Directors of a Play, and the two biggest honors of the year, Outstanding Play and Outstanding Musical, were also given in duplicate. Even the Emerging Theater Award, which is non-competitive and is decided upon by the Hayes organization itself, was a tie.

Well, I guess the more winners, the merrier. I had some favorites which were overlooked in the nominations, as everyone else does too. Without fail, these were shows or performances presented by the smaller theaters, which have a heck of a time competing with the multi-million dollar budgets of the Big Boys in town. Keegan Theater had great luck with their production of Rent a year ago, but their more recent production of A Man of No Importance, which featured a strong central performance by Buzz Mauro, was ignored (I wrote about that show here). One of my favorite performances of the year was given by Rebecca Herron in Looking for the Pony out at tiny little Venus Theater in Maryland. And naturally, I wish Bill Largess had been recognized for his splendid adaptation of the Oscar Wilde story Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, and James Konicek as well, for his drolly vapid characterization of the title role, but since I appeared in the show, my protestations must be taken with a grain of salt.

The folks out at Signature Theater need some of that salt, too, as they have been complaining for weeks about the exclusion of Flo Lacey's performance in their Sunset Boulevard.

Signature used to dominate the musical awards, but they have serious competition around town these days, so they had to be satisfied with their Ensemble Award for Sycamore Trees and with Ed Dixon's win for Sunset Boulevard (I thought Dixon was superb too, as I mentioned here). It doesn't look too hot for the local talent pool, by the way, to examine those Signature wins, as the entire cast of Sycamore Trees, classified as a resident musical, was imported from out of town, as was Dixon.

Ah well, everyone has their complaints, we're actors after all. No one can complain about the tribute award going to Tommy Tune, nor the fact that our honorable Helen Hayes is now on the "forever" postage stamp. That presentation during the ceremony turned a bit whimsical, and was followed up by a hilarious parody song, sung to the tune of "The Lady Is A Tramp", which became "The Lady's On A Stamp." Maybe that's why I so enjoy the group hug which this awards night always becomes: the mixture of the ridiculous and the sublime.