The 54th Obie Awards, the Voice‘s annual laurels for achievements in Off-Broadway theatre, were held at Webster Hall Monday night. The full list of winners — not announced dramatically from lists of nominees during the event, but decided aforehand by a blue ribbon panel and announced to invited guests who include the winners — may be found here. The event was hosted by Martha Plimpton (Pal Joey) and Daniel Breaker (Passing Strange, Shrek the Musical), with many guest presenters, including film star Anne Hathaway.
The major awards went to Lynn Nottage’s Ruined, previously winner of the Pulitzer Prize and honored at the Obies as Best American Play and for the performances of Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Russell Gebert Jones, and Quincy Tyler Bernstine, and to Earle Hyman for Lifetime Achievement.
Ruined details the lives of women living in a brothel in Congo in the 1960s. Voice critic Michael Feingold (also an Obie judge) compared the play to Brecht’s Mother Courage, and added, “Nottage’s feat, achieved in close collaboration with director Kate Whoriskey, has been to capture, simultaneously, both the place’s drifty, unresisting atmosphere and the deep underlying agonies left behind by the violence that abruptly shoots through it.”
Hyman’s career includes numerous television credits (he was Bill Cosby’s dad on The Cosby Show) and some film and Broadway credits (he starred in the famous production of Anna Lucasta by Philip Yordan while still a teenager and in 1980 played in Edward Albee’s The Lady from Dubuque). A paucity of work for black actors of his stature during his prime diverted Hyman to world and Off-Broadway stages, where he played in classics and modern plays, including a famous production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night where he played James Tyrone against Geraldine Page’s Mary.
Hyman, helped up the steps to the stage from a walker, recalled his youthful introduction in North Carolina to the playwright he called “Henrik Eyeb-sen,” and asking a librarian thereafter for a book with the world’s greatest wisdom, to which she responded with the works of Shakespeare. Hyman told the adoring crowd his keyword for great acting was “simplicity,” and generously attributed that quality to the telephone scene in Brokeback Mountain as performed by presenter Hathaway, who huddled against the upstage curtain bashfully
Silence was observed for many departed performers, including Harold Pinter and Bea Arthur, whom Feingold described as equally “masters of the significant pause.” Afterwards attendees who did not have to cover the event went upstairs for a part hosted by Michael Musto.