Live from an Afrobeat Obie Night

A recap of the 55th annual Village Voice Off-Broadway awards celebration

"The Obies are the cool, badass kids in the class," boasted director Jack Cummings III, whose revival of Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band scored actor Jonathan Hammond an Obie on Monday night. The 55th annual Village Voice Obie Awards—held at Webster Hall, co-hosted by Michael Cerveris and Anika Noni Rose—feted the scrappy, the whimsical, and the happily dysfunctional families of downtown theater. Antibalas—house band from Fela!, definitely the cool kid on Broadway this year—pumped Afrobeat rhythms through the auditorium. As the chorus bounced and shook, "Fela" himself (Sahr Ngaujah) strutted up the aisle. "Everybody say, 'Yeah, yeah!' " he called out. "Welcome to the Shrine."

The Obie judges said, "Yeah, yeah!" to Annie Baker, whose Circle Mirror Transformation and The Aliens portrayed subtle, tentative communities—they took home a dual Obie for Best New American Play. Sam Gold was honored for directing both. Awards for Circle Mirror Transformation's ensemble and Dane DeHaan's stuttering 17-year-old in The Aliens completed the Baker-Gold Obies sweep. "Dane"—who was performing in The Aliens at Rattlestick Theater at the moment he won—"is being amazingly good at being awkward onstage," said Gold, as he promised to be "amazingly awkward" in accepting the award on DeHaan's behalf.

The Ohio Theatre, long a cherished home for downtown theater, received a special Obie citation in honor of its years of work; it has to close later this summer. Happily, though, downtown stalwart Here Arts Center survives, offering a haven for eclectic theatrical enterprises: Steven Dufala and Billy Blaise Dufala garnered design awards for the gleefully inefficient contraptions of Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines, staged at the theater. "We just kind of holed up in a room and made things out of trash," Steven recalled laconically. Elsewhere, L'Effet de Serge forged mundane objects into less-than-everyday theater—"This is, yeah, yeah!" gloated co-creator and Obie winner Gaëtan Vourc'h—while in Coraline, fantastical worlds emerged out of the familiarities of childhood. "I guess I'm going to go home and put this on my mantel," mused songwriter Stephin Merritt about his Obie for Coraline's music—then chortled, "Do people here have mantels?"

Merritt's collaborator, David Greenspan—whose latest feats include writing and performing in Coraline, and a star turn in his solo show The Myopia—won a Sustained Achievement Award for his idiosyncratic acting and quirkily intelligent playwriting. But there was no quirkier winner than the perpetually glitter-clad Taylor Mac, who accepted his award for The Lily's Revenge in a sparkly blazer and green vinyl slacks. Mac should've won for Most Enthused Honoree, too: "I feel dirty how much I wanted this!" he crowed. "I feel so dirty it's like I had anonymous sex on recreational drugs! Now that I have an Obie, maybe I can afford a therapist who will teach me how to not want awards."

Others had more difficult moments of self-awareness: "I just realized something," quipped Cerveris to Rose, who recently starred in Disney's The Princess and the Frog. "I'm the frog, aren't I?"

 
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