Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Caridad Svich, Amy Herzog, Jay Scheib, Kirsten Greenidge take home Obie Awards

NEW YORK CITY: I did not really need to go to the Obie Awards this year. But I felt compelled to go. Mysterious forces pushed me to go. I am glad I did.

Why? Because Caridad Svich—a playwright, translator, teacher and my colleague at NoPassport theater alliance and press—received the Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Obie winner Caridad Svich | Photo by RG
Because 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog received the Obie Award for Best New American Play, which is accompanied by a $1,000 prize.

Denis O'Hare wins Obie Award for An Iliad | Photo by RG

Because Mark Bennett, Denis O'Hare, Lisa Peterson, and Stephen Spinella received special citations for An Iliad (New York Theatre Workshop).

Because Kirsten Greenidge received an Obie for playwriting for her work Milk Like Sugar (Playwrights Horizons and the Women's Project).

And because Jay Scheib took home an Obie for directing World of Wires (The Kitchen).

Looking around at who showed up at Webster Hall for the annual Obie Awards celebration, I confess that I felt at sea. There were so many people whom I had never seen before in my life. I met a lot of good people. An actor who held a travel book by Henry James under his arm, for example. A leader at Ensemble Studio Theatre. There were some others whom I met before but haven't really spent that much time with them. A business guy at St. Anne's Warehouse. A director at HERE Arts Center.

Ross Wetzsteon, the late theater editor and Obie Award chairman, used to tell me that the Obie Awards are "a funky family affair." I kept thinking about Ross' description as I walked around Webster Hall, where the awards were handed out. It made me quickly feel like an old-timer, even though the people who come to the Obie Awards had always ever been a changing gallery. Because so many people in the room were strangers, I quickly noted the theater professionals whom I did know and wondered if they came because they will pick up an award. Having once worked at the Village Voice (I was an intern there for two years, the longest ever), I remember that I used to call people up on the phone and urge them to go to the Obies, without actually spilling the beans that they would be winners.

I am thrilled that Caridad Svich, my colleague at NoPassport, won this year, although I confess that the win was surreal. You see, Svich will soon be celebrated in Chicago with a Francesca Primus Prize given by the American Theatre Critics Association. This award honors the contributions of an emerging female theater artist, one who has not yet achieved national prominence. Meanwhile, this Obie Award recognizes her for "lifetime achievement," which means she has already arrived.

How exactly is it possible for a major American playwright of Caridad's stature to be both emerging and yet eligible for a lifetime achievement recognition? Is she arriving, or is she moving on, or has she just leaped to the next stage? You tell me.

Ah, the paradoxes of the American theater boggle the mind.

Cherise Booth | Photo by Randy Gener

Citation from last night's Obie Awards
MICHAEL MCKEAN: And now our final award of the evening. Certain artists see borders and stop at them. Others see borders as an opportunity for transcendence. Few artists can claim to have crossed so many boundaries at birth: Cuba, Argentina, Spain, and Croatia. Few have created so many bodies of work in so many disciplines: playwriting, songwriting, essay writing, teaching, translation, reviewing, editing, and mentoring. For her prodigious output as one of America's most daring and provocative Latina writers, for her indefatigable energy, for her selfless and consistent advocacy of artists of all backgrounds, for her dizzying array of intellectual interests and pursuits—yes, for the very poetry that is her life's energy—the judges are proud to give this year's Lifetime Achievement Award to a nomad, a storyteller, and a true woman of the theater: CARIDAD SVICH

Caridad Svich's Obie Award Speech:

Make a spirit thing out of nothing. Call it a play.

Theatre begs ascension.
Its vertical pull Tugs at the heart
And heavens
Whilst reminding you to
Keep your ear to the ground
Alive to the beauty in the dirt.

As you stand at theatre's door - Strange, mysterious, elusive, maddening -
You are nonetheless charmed by its glamour. 
What beggar this, the door says?
And so, we walk in.

Young night of silver stains
as we stand in smoke
Inside the den where loud and fast
meets the acid glow
Of rushing boys
and lingering girls
and cigarettes dangling from canvas totes
We pose and slack
and hang in throes
never letting on.

This is the way we all go
As we face the slanting light in the unknown dark:
A wee holler, a wild shout, exclaiming the furious game of living
Hold on," we say,
While we wrestle the demons in our midst,
Hold fast n strong
And never, never let on
Cuz the truth will find you
the truth of making will catch you
and maybe, just maybe, sometimes when you're not (even) looking,
save your very soul.
But we won't let on, right?

Cause to let on would be
To let on
Would be
Like, the worst thing
All seen
All been
All there and now
Never letting on

A complete list of Obie awards is given below.

Best New American Play (with $1,000 prize)
Amy Herzog
4000 Miles (Lincoln Center Theater)

Cherise Boothe
Milk Like Sugar (Playwrights Horizons and the Women's Project)

Steven Boyer
Hand to God (Ensemble Studio Theatre/Youngblood)

Sweet and Sad Ensemble:
Jon DeVries, Shuler Hensley, Maryann Plunkett, Laila Robins, Jay O. Sanders,
J. Smith-Cameron (The Public Theater)

Gabriel Ebert and Mary Louise Wilson
4000 Miles (Lincoln Center Theater)

Jim Fletcher
Sustained Excellence

Santino Fontana
Sons of the Prophet (The Roundabout Theatre)

Linda Lavin
The Lyons (The Vineyard Theatre)

Susan Pourfar
Tribes (Barrow Street Theatre)

Kirsten Greenidge
Milk Like Sugar (Playwrights Horizons and the Women's Project)

Richard Maxwell
Early Plays (The Wooster Group and St. Ann's Warehouse)

Jay Scheib
World of Wires (The Kitchen)

Mark Barton, Sustained Excellence of Lighting Design

Mimi Lien, Sustained Excellence of Set Design

Matt Tierney and Ben Williams, sound design
The Select (The Sun Also Rises) (New York Theatre Workshop)

Special Citations
Mark Bennett, Denis O'Hare, Lisa Peterson, and Stephen Spinella
An Iliad (New York Theatre Workshop)

Elevator Repair Service

Sustained Excellence
Erin Courtney and Ken Rus Schmoll
A Map of Virtue (13P)

Steven Hoggett, Martin Lowe, and John Tiffany
Once (New York Theatre Workshop)

Daniel Kitson
It's Always Right Now, Until It's Later (St. Ann's Warehouse)

Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra
No Place to Go (The Public Theater/Joe's Pub)

Ross Wetzsteon Grant ($1,000)
Youngblood (Ensemble Studio Theatre)

The Bushwick Starr ($2,500)

The Debate Society ($2,500)

Lifetime Achievement
Caridad Svich

Me and Caridad Svich

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