Thursday, June 29, 2017
We ended up not doing this piece for Exeunt...but I had these fake Obie awards that I wanted to give out for work in 2016 so I thought I would share.
Best Play About Economic Anxiety
Dominque Morisseau's play Skeleton Crew, which came to the New York stage first, somehow lost out in the working-class, economic crisis attention to Lynn Nottage's Sweat. But for my money Skeleton Crew was the better play. Set around the changing Detroit auto industry and its union workers, Morisseau introduces us to characters in the plant's break room and challenges us to look beyond labels. She weaves the political backdrop into the play but it never overpowers the human drama. Addressing questions of crime, love, family, homelessness, class, race, and labor she made us care about these people. These lives lived in front of a wall of union lockers and the changing conditions of labor in America were made poignant in Ruben Santiago-Hudson's stellar production. Thankfully Morisseau has several new plays coming to town in 2017 and 2018 so there will be more opportunities to celebrate her work in the coming year.
Actress Who Every Playwright Should Write a Role For Award
Shannon DeVido ended up with a Samuel D. Hunter part written specifically for her in the Theater Breaking Through Barriers production of The Healing. The actress and comedian also stole the show in the workshop production of Mike Lew's Teenage Dick. If the world was more just, many playwrights would be vying to write parts for her. Her sharp sarcasm and comedic timing are certainly the first aspect of her performances that you notice. But she showed with The Healing that confronted with a complicated character who's narrative is not clear cut or morally pure, she's got the acting chops to communicate those nuances as well. DeVido uses a wheelchair and though two actresses who use wheelchairs have appeared on Broadway in the past couple of years, I can only hope talents like DeVido can find more opportunities on or off-Broadway--whether the characters are written specifically for them or directors cast actors with disabilities in roles not written for performers with a disability.
Director Who Is Doing All the Work Award
Rachel Chavkin had two successful shows Off-Broadway this year (and she's finally making her Broadway debut with Natasha, Pierre as well) and I'm wondering why we have not declared 2016 the year of Rachel Chavkin. With the commercial off-Broadway run of Small Mouth Sounds (now touring around the US) and Hadestown at New York Theatre Workshop, she chooses and directs unusual and challenging pieces. Chavkin used an immersive and non-traditional framing to make both pieces work. In one she made you feel like you were upstate at a silent retreat or in the other slowly descending into the depths of hell...but like an Appalachian-styled hell. Chavkin also continues to work with The TEAM and her collaborations in the UK in 2016 included Anything That Gives Off Light with the National Theatre of Scotland--an epic musical and physical piece that addressed cultural identity, dislocation, and an understanding of a sense of self, with the band The Bengsons and a pile of dirt. I loved it.
Watch Out For Martyna Majok Award
When I saw Martyna Majok's play Ironbound at Rattlestick I was shushed by an audience member for laughing. Stunned by this moment of audience policing I was not sure what to do. But moments after it happened a woman passed me a note from down the end of my row, it turned out it was Majok herself. Her note read "Laugh as loudly as you want. You are awesome!" In many ways, her play is a reflection of her note. She writes complicated, awesome women, who are very funny. Though they may be faced with many challenges, losses, and sadness, it is her dark humor in these characters that keeps her play buoyant and meaningful. This is only the beginning of Majok's career but from Ironbound and her play-in- development, Queens, I'm confident she'll be making us laugh for a good long while. She's writing fascinating working-class, immigrant female characters who are demanding their space on stage.
Lighting A Show Without a Lighting Grid Award
Jane Cox deserves a special award for lighting Sam Gold's production of Othello when Andrew Lieberman's set design eliminated the space for a lighting grid. Cox came up with a series of creative solutions to create environmental light--from light up ice cubes to a cell phone screen to portable military lighting units. She solved the complicated problems the director and designer created, and made her choices feel organic to the production.
I have been whining for months about how there's a lot more fowl and livestock on stage in the UK than in New York. But since I can make up an award like the Obies I'm giving one to the opera De Materie which had an entire sequence which involved nothing but remote control zeppelins and a flock of sheep. I bought the ticket literally for the sheep alone but the zeppelins were an added bonus. If there were more sheep in opera, I'd probably see more opera.