Marian Seldes took off her diamond earrings and announced the start of the 46th annual Obie Awards, held Monday, May 21, at Webster Hall. Seldes hosted the awards with Brian Murray, her costar from Edward Albee’s The Play About the Baby. Musician Rinde Eckert had just kicked off the evening, with a riveting recital that was part pennywhistle, part didgeridoo, part opera, and part Gregorian chant.
Honorees came from across the Off-Broadway spectrum. Actor Stephanie Berry, an Obie winner for her performance in The Shaneequa Chronicles, admitted she didn’t know if her borrowed slinky outfit was a dress or a slip and thanked her daughter “for nights of neglect and sticking her in corners.” British actress Janie Dee was rewarded for her charming robotic performance in Comic Potential. Since Dee was back in England performing, her agent accepted the award for her, but admitted he’d lost her acceptance speech “somewhere between Pizzeria Uno and Webster Hall.” Linda Kline assured us that her late husband, Ed Kleban—awarded a posthumous Obie for the music and lyrics for A Class Act—hadn’t been tipped off in advance about his award.
José Rivera flew in from California to receive an Obie for his play References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot, recently presented at the Public. John Ortiz, awarded an Obie for his performance in the play, explained that he’d never wanted to be an actor, and that he’d first discovered Rivera’s work when he went into a bookstore “and chose a bunch of plays based on the color of their binding.”
Dryly summoning the spirit of Quentin Crisp, Bette Bourne received his performance award for Resident Alien, saying, “What a lovely surprise. I don’t get out much.” Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman won an Obie for Kiki and Herb: Jesus Wept. “I once had a Jungian shrink who got upset when I called myself a freak,” confessed Bond. “Then she came to see the show and she never mentioned that again.” P.S. 122 director Mark Russell joined actor Daphne Rubin-Vega in presenting Rinde Eckert with his Obie for And God Created Great Whales. Explained Eckert, “I figured that since I’d done The Divine Comedy in an hour, I could take on Melville.”
The Obie for Sustained Achievement, designed to honor an artist who has upheld “the dignity of the theater,” was presented to host Seldes, who received a standing ovation and quoted the writer Garson Kanin: “Every so often, life rhymes. Tonight,” Seldes said, “my life rhymes.”