Remembrance of Obies Past

Judges from the last five decades pay homage to the productions and artists they'll never forget


Refugees of convention (above): Andrei Serban's Trojan Women (1974)
photo: Amnon Ben Nomis courtesy of the Ellen Stewart private collection
Refugees of convention (above): Andrei Serban's Trojan Women (1974)

If criticism, as Oscar Wilde says, is the highest form of autobiography, then why pretend that my Obie favorites are anything but personal? I remember June and Jean in Concert at the Signature Theatre (hosted that year by the Public) as much for James Houghton's movingly ethereal production as for the way my then boyfriend sobbed quietly throughout Adrienne Kennedy's wounded fragments of memoir, a work that left us (for a time) saner and closer together. I recall Elizabeth Marvel's desperate, throaty, brutalized Blanche in Ivo van Hove's unjustly derided A Streetcar Named Desire, partly for hearing the raw vulnerability and savagery of Tennessee Williams's play anew, and partly for the seismic enthusiasm running through my self-exiled Yugoslavian director friend who craved boldness and urgency onstage the way other New Yorkers crave expensive food and wine. I can still hear the shriek of injustice toward the end of Suzan-Lori Parks's In the Blood, a harrowing cry unleashed by Charlayne Woodard as a welfare mom victimized by a cartoonish system that brought me and my only African American NYU student that term to our feet in stunned applause. And, perhaps most memorably, I remember seeing I Am My Own Wife for the third time on a fateful date last year, marveling at Jefferson Mays's virtuosity in Doug Wright's play (a deceptively straightforward work about a survivor of 20th-century history that grew more poetically impressive with each viewing). And there, in the company of someone whom I would come to love, I found myself feeling for the theater, as I had so many times before, a single overwhelming emotion: gratitude. CHARLES MCNULTY

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