The 49th Annual Obie Awards

Mark Russell
photo: Keith Bedford

With I Am My Own Wife, Frozen, and Caroline, or Change all having transferred to Broadway, a lot of this year's Obie winners were scarily close to Tony land, but that only made the Obie selectors search even harder for honor-worthy rarities like a Hiroshima tale with puppets, a Doll's House with puppets and little people, and a play rehearsed by a dumpster.

The resulting Obie evening at Webster Hall was a heady collision of art, risk, commerce, gratitude, politics, and self-promotion. At the pre-party there, Randy Jones approached black-leather-clad Swoosie Kurtz and gushed, "You look like the leather man from my group, the Village People!" Nearby, a fan of pop-cultural references like that, former Obie host and winner Paul Rudnick, was lamenting that the Broadway bomb Prymate wasn't eligible, because "Every play should include a character masturbating another one!"

Here, the Off-Broadway glitterati had come to stroke everyone they'd ever met, but first, opening act Tonya Pinkins told the crowd, "If Caroline sang this song, she would have changed," and launched into a smoky, seductive version of "Blues in the Night." Then bluesy Swoosie came out with her co-host, Raúl Esparza—also in black leather—and announced that at the Obies, "creativity is not a competition" (i.e., since there are no nominees, there are no losers—just people who have failed to win).

And on came the non-losers: Wife's Jefferson Mays, who described a snippet that was cut from the play, where Charlotte delusionally says in a ratty hospital, "Mein Gott, what a beautiful chandelier!" There was more medical talk when Sarah Jones, as her retired Long Islander character, Lorraine Levine, said Obie sounds like something involving "sanitary supply." And being ultra-hygienic, I'm sure, Wife's director, Moisés Kaufman, was doing a Christina Lahti in the bathroom when he won, though he then dramatically ran down the aisle shrieking, "I'm here!"—a moment that's an early contender for next year's Obies.

But the horny, happy highlight had Tony Kushner thanking his lover, Mark Harris, and exulting, "Every time I win an Obie, I get to have sex, so this is four!" (Mein Gott, nine-time winner Richard Foreman must get a lot of dates.)

For the record, there was one gay-marriage remark, two speeches against the war, two against the administration, and one against audiences. ("They're very old," said Frozen's Brían F. O'Byrne. "They don't have the vitality. . . . We don't seem to be getting through to them.") Oh, and no more Village People outfits.

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