BACK STAGE WEST
September 22, 1996
Ovations Don't Stand on Ceremony
Actors' Gang, CTG, and 99-Seats Win
by Rob Kendt
Los Angeles theatre got a first-rate party earlier this week--a till-the-wee-hours boogie-down at Century City's cozy Century Club, with music provided by retro swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and the alcohol, smoke, congratulations, and business cards flowing freely.
The theatre community also had an awards show, the Ovations, across the street at the Shubert Theatre. The third such show put on by Theatre L.A., the nonprofit theatre membership organization, it was another unruly, ungainly love fest for local theatre, with a few nods to celebrity among the presenters, but a heartening lack of pretension in its presentation. The co-hosts were the thoroughly unstuffy actor's actors Joanna Gleason and John Rubinstein, who kept the show light on its feet. For the record, the show clocked in at a loose, rewarding, only intermittently grueling two and a half hours.
Big winners were the Actors' Gang, taking home four awards for its hyperactive production of Moliere's Imaginary Invalid, and the Center Theatre Group.
The biggest winners, though, were L.A.'s Equity 99-Seat Plan theatres, which made impressive showings in the categories in which their artists compete directly with artists working in larger theatres. Recognizing discrepancies of budget and scale, Theatre L.A. separates the design and production categories between larger and smaller theatres; but performers, directors, and writers compete with each other regardless of theatre size. Among the actors honored: Alec Mapa for Porcelain, Yvette Freeman for Dinah Was, Jane Kaczmarek for Kindertransport, and Steven M. Porter for Invalid.
Other wins for small theatre--Culture Clash's ensemble award for Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invades Miami, Beth Milles for translation/adaptation of Invalid, Jim McGrath for authorship of The Ellis Jump and Ron Orbach for direction of same--were no less heartening though, for whatever reason, Ovation voters did not nominate any larger theatre work against them. Why Stephen Wadsworth's adaptation of Changes of Heart and Stephen Daldry's incisive direction of An Inspector Calls were overlooked, for instance, remains a mystery.
Meanwhile, Juan Chioran and Marian Seldes sent proxies to accept awards for their memorable lead performances in Kiss of the Spider Woman and Three Tall Women, respectively.
Nomination peculiarities aside, nearly every one of the voters' nods not only went to richly deserving artists, but made apt tribute to a wide range of theatrical expression in L.A.: The Cornerstone Theater won no other awards, but its best play, small theatre win for The Central Ave. Chalk Circle recognized one of the most extraordinary theatre experiences of 1995--and the culmination of Cornerstone's Watts residency. The award not only brought managing director Leslie Tamaribuchi but also the towering Quentin Drew to the podium to thank Ovation voters for "recognizing something positive in Watts" and to pledge that theatre in Watts would continue.
Tom McCoy and Cathy Rigby's La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts also won few nods despite many nominations; but in giving it the best musical, larger theatre award for Radio Gals (as well as honoring Patti Colombo's choreography), Ovation voters applauded a troupe that has gone well beyond the call of duty to serve a theatre-going community far afield of the 99-Seat stages of Hollywood.
The awards show itself--directed by Luke Yankee and produced by Jeff Brown, Farrell Hirsch, and Don Hill--was an amiably unprogrammatic affair with its share of ad libs, gaffes, laughs, stump speeches, and only a splash of tears.
There was one major roadblock plumb in the middle of the show, in the context of a heartfelt tribute to Matrix director Joseph Stern, who was honored with the James A. Doolittle Award for Leadership in Los Angeles Theatre. The tireless Stern embodies a lot of what's great and distinctive about L.A. theatre. Actress Penny Fuller read a letter from actor Cotter Smith recalling Stern's infamous bodily ejection from an Equity meeting in the early 1980s.
The problem is, Fuller read the letter after nearly 15 minutes of tribute from Matrix co-founders Mary Joan Negro, Andrew Robinson, Lawrence Pressman, and Robin Gammell--and then added her own words of praise. All told, the Stern portion of the program lasted a good half hour. As presenter Gregory Harrison quipped later, "When Joe Stern goes, they won't need to do a memorial."
A complete list of winners follows:
World premiere play: Jim McGrath, "The Ellis Jump" (Met Theatre).
New translation/adaptation: Beth Milles, "Imaginary Invalid" (Actors' Gang).
Musical, larger theatre: "Radio Gals" (La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts).
Musical, smaller theatre: "City of Angels" (Colony Studio Theatre).
Play, larger theatre: "Changes of Heart" (Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum).
Play, smaller theatre: "The Central Ave. Chalk Circle" (Cornerstone Theatre Company).
Actor, musical: Juan Chioran, "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (CTG/Ahmanson Theatre).
Actor, play: Alec Mapa, "Porcelain" (East West Players).
Actress, musical: Yvette Freeman, "Dinah Was" (D.W. Fairbanks Productions/Coast Playhouse).
Actress, play: Marian Seldes, "Three Tall Women" (CTG/Mark Taper Forum).
Featured actor, play: Steven M. Porter, "Imaginary Invalid."
Featured actress, play: Jane Kaczmarek, "Kindertransport" (Tiffany Theatre).
Best ensemble performance: The cast of "Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invade Miami" (Taramind Theatre).
Director of a play: Ron Orbach, "The Ellis Jump."
Choreography: Patti Colombo, "Radio Gals."
Lighting design, larger theatre: Rick Fisher, "An Inspector Calls" (Center Theatre Group/ Ahmanson).
Lighting design, smaller theatre: J. Kent Inasy, "Mad Forest" (Matrix Theatre).
Set design, larger theatre: James Leonard Joy, "Camping With Henry and Tom" (Pasadena Playhouse).
Set design, smaller theatre: Deborah Raymond and Dorian Vernacchio, "Mad Forest."
Costume design, larger theatre: Martin Pakledinaz, "Changes of Heart."
Costume design, smaller theatre: Alix Hester, "Imaginary Invalid."
Sound design, larger theatre: Steven Canyon Kennedy, "Carousel" (CTG/Ahmanson).
Sound design, smaller theatre: Laurence O'Keefe, "Imaginary Invalid."
James A. Doolittle Award for Leadership in L.A. Theatre: Joseph Stern (Matrix Theatre).
Theatre L.A. Board of Governors Lifetime Achievement Award: August Wilson.