The fun, inspiring, but long Drama League Awards luncheon at the Plaza seemed to honor the majority of people who crossed a stage this year. As we vainly waited until dork, the other winners were so adorably grateful and honored to be sitting on the dais with all the other grateful and honored personages that I started spelling out you’re welcome in croutons. But once the eating frenzy culminated with a dessert dripping in brandy, the acceptances started getting looser and giddier–if still extremely grateful. Ragtime‘s Audra McDonald said her costars’ commitment “makes it easier to bury your baby.” Cabaret‘s Alan Cumming thanked his cast “for letting me touch their genitals.” Side Show‘s Emily Skinner said, “The hardest part of playing a Siamese twin was PMS-ing together.” Freak‘s John Leguizamo held up flash cards ranging from “My throat is killing me” to “I love your work, too.” And High Society‘sprecious little Anna Kendrick giggled, “I’m afraid I don’t have any flash cards . . . I’m just a kid!”
After a few–all right, 44–more presentations, things got even more surreal when the revival category turned out to combine both dramas and musicals, so The Sound of Music was competing against Ionesco’s The Chairs! (Cabaret won.) During a break, I hunted down yet more delightful absurdity by asking Chairs-person Richard Briers what “AngelSweep” means at the end of that nutty play (which I’m convinced is a lost I Love Lucy episode). Instead of holding up a flash card saying “Fuck you,” the actor nicely replied, “It’s Ionesco being perverse–making nonsense of the beautiful phrase ‘angels weep.’ ” Thank you!
Terrence McNally has crafted many a beautiful phrase–including thanks, which he said a lot at a whole other awards lunch, the New Dramatists’ one in his honor. But he won’t even say that much about the controversy surrounding what’s being called “the gay Jesus” in his next play, Corpus Christi (a/k/a Love! Valour! Confession!). “I keep telling myself, If you just say no comment, they can’t quote you,” McNally told me before the luncheon, as I wrote it down for quotation. His discreet silence has me speculating that maybe Judas really screws Jesus in the play.
Fortunately, every theater apostle in town was gladly serving up sound bites at the week’s final theater-award bash, the annual Tony nominees’ brunch at Sardi’s–a fabulously frenetic media circus where the season’s trends paraded before me in human, superhuman, and semihuman form. There were the too-close-for-comfort twosomes, Siamese and otherwise;the windy monologue wielders;the fops, hams, and wildebeests; and the slumming superstars who lined up for gunning critics (though Paul Simon didn’t show, despite his charity-fuck nomination, and neither did Tarantino, this time because he
didn’t get one).
Leguizamo turned up and even talked, except when I pretended he was wrongly holding a plaque for one of the Best Actresses. “That bitch!” he mouthed–kidding, kidding. Actually, he was bedecked with two plaques–for play and actor–a true vindication after his across-the-board smash failed to place him on a whole bunch of magazine covers, no doubt because all the media hotshots said, “Oh, it’s only those people going to see him.” One columnist even wrote that the “aging” Tony committee was nuts to nominate Leguizamo instead of Liam Neeson for The Judas Kiss. Huh? But a vote for Leguizamo is one for freshness and excitement, not humdrum attempts at such. Oh, I’ll shut up, since my throat is killing me.
Except to remind that The Beauty Queen of Inane,I mean Leenane, is not the fresh piece of excitement it’s been touted to be; it’s a clichéd con job hinging on that old withheld-letter device, though it does acquire more fascination as the Baby Jane?type perversity of the mother-daughter team grows even more fungal. At the brunch, Anna Manahan, who pricelessly plays the malicious piece of garbage of a mom, turned out to be a sequined cutie, and Brian F. O’Byrne, the beauty queen’s limp suitor, has some personality, too. When I posed that dignified question, “Why can’t you get it up [in the play]?” O’Byrne cracked, “It’s a common Irish problem. Drunk and Irish. I don’t think it was my fault, was it?” I’d like to find out.
Playing a drunk who’s not in need of Viagra, John McMartin steals High Society by being smarmy on purpose. He’s like a slightly more sociable Alan Cumming, one who doesn’t touch his cast’s genitals with both hands, only because he needs one to swig gin with. McMartin told me he’s glad he hasn’t heard any sexual harassment complaints because, “You can’t take away all of our innuendo and comic fun or we’ll have to lie down and die.” I wanted to when I told him he was great in Sweet Charity and he said, “Thanks for remembering,” as if I meant the ’66 play, not the movie version, which I rented two years ago! I swear! Anyway, I dropped all innuendo and comic fun when asking that cute costar of McMartin’s, Anna Kendrick–five days older now–who her favorite movie stars are. I expected Ben Affleck or Neve Campbell. She said Katharine Hepburn. This babe’s gonna make it.
And there were so many other rising stars to catch on the way to the gift bag. The Lion King‘s Tsidii Le Loka told me that the second she was nominated for a Tony, she called Mom, who responded, “Who’s he?” Betty Buckley–who saved Triumph of Love–said that she, Rosie O’Donnell, Patti LuPone, and Jennifer Holliday are opening the Tonys with a Four Divas spoof to the tune of Cabaret‘s “Two Ladies.” And one of Art‘s three divas, Alfred Molina, told me how he approaches his show-stealing monologue, the longest sentence since John Wayne Gacey’s. “I cheat,” he admitted. “There are sneaky places in it where you can breathe. One of the actors in London told me he accidentally skipped the whole speech one night–so the play was an hour shorter!” Will Molina be in the movie version of Art (no doubt called Three Men and a Painting)? “I doubt it,” he said. “They usually get big movie stars for those things. I’m the Kathy Bates of my generation.”
Finally, the Lotte Lenya of her production, Cabaret‘s Mary Louise Wilson, revealed her romantic obsession with her costar–the pineapple. “I kvell over fruit,” she said. “There’s something maybe sexy and erotic about it. I was telling a friend there was a grapefruit I had that was better than sex. There was a long pause, then she said, ‘When was the last time you had sex?’ ” I left Mary Louise immediately to run to the buffet table.
And even with a mouthful of bananas, let me now say that, despite everything, I love you, theater world! Only Hollywood can create a canvas as boring as The Horse Whisperer or think that Vanessa Redgrave could be Téa Leoni’s mother. Message to Broadway: Thank you!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 26, 1998