Theater archives

The 51st Annual Obie Awards: Screwball Moments at the Skirball Center


Downtown performance artists, theater lab directors, and other artsy types in slightly rumpled clothes filled the cocktail reception for the Obies at NYU’s glitzy Skirball Center, but everyone was screeching, “Did you see the guy from The Sopranos?” They meant Michael Imperioli, who with his wife runs Studio Dante, and who—oops—had a messy breakup with the night’s co-host Lili Taylor some years ago, as I, the not-so-arty gossip guy, recollected with a scarily crystal clarity.

Maybe I could reunite them through our love of Suzanne Somers’s poetry, a subject that thrilled the three of us back when . . . no, long, sick story. More immediately, I focused on riveting kitsch of a higher order, namely Grey Gardens, and gushed to Mary Louise Wilson about the scene where she and Christine Ebersole really go at each other. “I don’t consider it going at each other,” she said wryly. “It’s a normal family discussion.” Well, Wilson and I proceeded to normally discuss how the show is moving to Broadway—the veteran actress told me they’re tweaking Act I a bit—and when she admitted she didn’t know which theater it’ll be at, I gleefully got to inform Wilson it’s the Walter Kerr. (I’m such a giver—not to mention a fantastic surfer of the Internet.)

Already on Broadway, The Drowsy Chaperone‘s Edward Hibbert was there to be a presenter, so after ogling the Sopranos guy one more time, I asked Hibbert about his succession of onstage spit takes with Georgia Engel. “I never imagined, watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show in England,” he said, “that I’d be sprayed by her. That’s why I love show business. Sort of gothic, isn’t it?”

One more ogle and two more spit takes, and then it was showtime, with Taylor and Eric Bogosian taking the stage for two and a half hours of normal family discussion. On came the triumphant fringe dwellers, who didn’t know they were going to win, but clearly had an idea, which is why they were there and holding three-page speeches yet. Most of them understandably exulted about nabbing the award. (“It’s like pouring gravy all over the mashed potatoes,” said Birdie Blue‘s S. Epatha Merkerson, while What Then‘s Meg MacCary held up the plaque and announced, “This is a huge perk!”) They also indulged in truckloads of Bush bashing, with everyone from Stuff Happens‘ Peter Francis James to 90-year-old Lifetime Achievement winner Eric Bentley preaching to the perverted. (“Infidels of the world, unite!” exclaimed Bentley, getting the night’s biggest lefty hand.) And there were scads of comments about the venue, which was way less skanky than past ones (“I don’t see any empty beer bottles,” noted Ebersole), and how that didn’t mean the downtown spirit of creative art was dead, oh no.

And the gratitude—and huge perks—kept coming, as the Public Theater’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, praised Daniel Sullivan’s “Jesuitical, hawk-nosed integrity”; Douglas Carter Beane assured us that Julie White’s Desperate Housewives character will go into a coma for several months so she can star in the Broadway transfer of his The Little Dog Laughed, and [title of show]‘s director, Michael Berresse, admiringly said, “As Stuff Happens so eloquently shows, there’s so much shit out there.”

Can Suzanne Somers’s poetry bring us all together? (“I wore my green sweater today and smiled . . . “) Probably not. But Lili Taylor was feeling no pain anyway. “All these men have been asking for Lili’s number,” said Bogosian, “and Eric Bentley’s the one who got it.” Sort of gothic, isn’t it?