Fast and Funny at 54 Below
By: David Sheward
The New York Drama Critics Circle Awards are usually held in a crowded bar with all the honorees, critics, friends, and cast members standing up and pushed up against each other as if they were in the subway. This year, the ceremony, held on Mon. May 13, was moved to the more spacious 54 Below cabaret room. Critics mingled with actors, playwrights, directors, producers, and press agents and there was no bloodshed.
The Circle was founded in 1935 in reaction to the press’s dissatisfaction with choices made by the Pulitzer Prize committee and gives awards for the Best Play, Best American or Foreign Play (depending on the nationality of the Best Play choice), Best Musical, and whatever special citations the members choose for that season. I’ve been a voting member for many years and this was probably the most entertaining and fun Circle presentation in recent memory. Before the ceremony started I found myself chatting with Sigourney Weaver and Linda Winer of Newsday on the mating habits of gorillas and lions. We were talking about Weaver’s role in Gorillas in the Mist; I mentioned I had been in Namibia and one of the attractions at the lodge where I stayed was watching a pride of lions at feeding time. The pride consisted of one male and eight females one of whom was in heat. The male mated with her three times during the course of the meal. "How long did each encounter take?," Linda asked. "About 30 seconds," I answered. Sigourney confirmed that it was about the same for gorillas.
The festivities started with Circle president Adam Feldman of Time Out New York introducing our hosts Peter Bartlett and Harriet Harris of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, both of whom were droll and dry. In introducing Weaver, Bartlett quipped, "I can probably name every movie she’s ever been in. Am I gay or what?" Weaver then presented the Best Play Award to her Yale classmate and frequent collaborator Christopher Durang for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Durang delivered a witty speech explaining the genesis of the play which puts elements of Chekhov in a blender and why he’s been in a wheelchair lately. He injured himself while performing in a concert version of Kiss Me, Kate. "I plan never to see Kate again," he said. When thanking his cast, Durang mentioned that David Hyde Pierce who plays Vanya got his Equity card in the Broadway production of the playwright’s Beyond Therapy. "It’s been revoked," the author joked.
Charles Busch presented the special citation to the Encores! series, accepted by Ted Chapin who revealed an early possible title for the readings of neglected musicals was Flops By Tops. Fortunately, this monicker was rejected. Obie winning playwright Young Jean Lee presented a second special citation to SoHo Rep where she worked as an intern. Lee was originally studying to be a drama professor and told her adviser she wanted to be a playwright. "That’s like being a veterinarian and saying you want to be a dog," she quipped. Her adviser suggested the internship at SoHo Rep where she later did her first play. It was not well received, but the innovative company was supportive nonetheless. The award was accepted by artistic director Sarah Benson. Ironically, Lee interviewed Benson as her successor in the internship position.
Lynne Meadow, artistic director of Manhattan Theater Club, was the next presenter. Harris called Meadow "the Law & Order of nonprofit theater" because she has worked with just about everybody in NYC. Meadow presented a career achievement citation to set designer John Lee Beatty who not only designed many Encores shows and 54 Below itself, but also 65 MTC productions and 103 Broadway shows. Beatty recalled being taken to Peter Pan at age seven and designing sets immediately afterwards. "Twisted children do twisted things," he commented.
Speaking of twisted children, for the first time I can remember, there followed a musical interlude with Molly Pope singing a medley from the Best Musical winner Matilda, accompanied by Brian Nash. David Hyde Pierce then presented the award to composer-lyricist Tim Michin and book-writer Dennis Kelly.The Australian Michin confessed to being slightly overwhelmed by the number of awards NY theater confers and gave a very accurate and hilarious comparison of the Outer Critics, Critics Circle, Broadway.com Audience Awards, and Drama Desks. Amid this flurry of prize presentations, this year’s NYDCC emerged as the fastest and funniest.
Photography: David Sheward
Originally Posted on The David Desk 2 on May 15, 2013