In the capacious penthouse of NYU’s Skirball Center, at the pre-Obies cocktail party, guests enjoyed unparalleled Downtown views and sipped premium Russian vodka. A few lamented how sanitary the Obies have become of late. Playwright Jeff Jones carped, “I liked it better in the grungy clubs.” Michael Friedman, soon to win an Obie for sustained excellence of musical composition, complained, “It’s hard to find a place to fall over and make out.” Presenter Liev Schreiber, looking rather sanitary himself in bright-white sneakers, confessed, “I panicked when I saw the venue was the Skirball Center. I thought it meant maybe it was black-tie. Thank God I was wrong.”
But it didn’t take too many vodka cocktails to dirty the 52nd annual Obie awards, penthouse or no. Soon Schreiber replaced an absent bartender, doling out wine for thirsty guests. In the ladies’ room, just before the ceremony began, actress Laura Heisler expressed the sentiments of many, claiming, “I already have a hangover.” Hosts Cynthia Nixon and T.R. Knight looked immaculate. Yet they were not above the outré. Nixon noted she’d once worked with presenter Angela Lansbury in an episode of Murder, She Wrote. “I played a sleepwalking incest survivor,” she boasted cheerily.
The audience was far from asleep, cheering the talents of Lifetime Achievement Award winner Alvin Epstein and the lauded cast of The Brig. Of that strapping ensemble, a spectator whispered, “I like this theater company in a fight over any theater company in the city.” Equally fierce: an elegant Lansbury and a very pregnant Nina Hellman, who won for her role in Trouble in Paradise. “Hardly any of you saw it,” said a glowing Hellman. “Let’s face it.” Other notable acceptance speeches included the producer of An Oak Tree reciting a list of the 82 people who co-starred in it; a friend of playwright Young Jean Lee reading Lee’s letter thanking people “in the order in which they helped me”; and playwright Adam Bock declining to thank his actors by name—”I used to be a pothead, so I’m not gonna remember.” Also, actor Andre De Shields sang an a cappella number from The Wiz, prompting Nixon to remark, “It’s fun at the Obies, isn’t it?”