Inside Webster Hall a mystery lurked. The suspects offered fuzzy alibis, flimsy excuses, changing stories. Still the question burned: why exactly were Paul Rudnick and Lea Delaria hosting the 44th annual Village Voice Obie Awards?
DeLaria, a slick figure in black leather and brown derby, insisted: "Actually, I thought I'd get a host, it's my Catholic upbringing. I was looking for the wafer when I came in." But then she revealed ulterior motives she figured that up onstage she'd get a "really good view of all the girls."
Rudnick had his own reasons. "Hosting is a condition of my parole," he explained. "It was either this or build puppets for Julie Taymor."
Yet as soon as the ceremony began, the hosts confessed their true design. "Paul and I have been lovers for a very long time," DeLaria announced. "You thought we were gay, but that was just a career move. . . . We're getting married and these awards are like our honeymoon, because neither of us will be getting anything."
While the hosts might have left empty-handed, this year's Obies still had much to give to presenters, winners, and audience alike. Kathleen Chalfant, a presenter and an Obie recipient for her performance in Wit, emphasized the power of assembling the Off-Broadway community. Eloquent even when seized by emotion, Chalfant said, "This room represents what is best about America and American theater. In a spirit of simplicity and kindness," she asked, "can we express to the rest of the world how it is we do what we do here? There must be some way to make this work for the entire world."
While Chalfant was the evening's fashion hit for her long black dress and bald-headed do, another sartorial standout was Hawaiian-shirted Jim Simpson, a winner for his direction of Benten Kozo. (He's from Honolulu, so he gets away with it.) Receiving an Obie for her role as the title sisters in The Mineola Twins, Swoosie Kurtz thanked the committee from the depths of her brassiere. "Thank you from Myra's 32-B and Mynra's 44-D. My cups runneth over."
But it wasn't all about the clothes. Performer Carmelita Tropicana, the recipient of a special citation, discussed race relations, shouting, "I am embraced by the Anglo community like never before. I am loooved."
Though Lisa Kron was off in London performing with the Five Lesbian Brothers, in her acceptance speech for 2.5 Minute Ride she wrote of the economic considerations that molded her autobiographical play about Auschwitz and amusement parks. "Who goes to the theater more than gay people and Jews?" she asked. She also revealed that she toyed with naming her work Holocoasters.
The first word out of Dixon Place founder Ellie Covan's mouth after winning the Ross Wetzsteon grant was a flustered "Shit." She collected herself enough to disclose that Dixon Place has recently lost its lease and that she was "willing to borrow, rent, buy, or share" a new location. Fellow grant recipients the National Asian American Theatre Company and the Point seemed just as grateful and pleased to have been awarded funds as Covan.
At evening's end, Rudnick explained that the Obies offer recognition for works not typically lauded, that the awards provide proof that something important has taken place. "So when Lea and I decide to have a child," he said, "we don't want a boy or a girl. We want something much better. We want an Obie."
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