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To the late Alien Comic:
Hey, Tom Murrin! I don’t think performance artists go to heaven, so I hope it’s fun to haunt the P.S. 122 dressing room or the basement of Theater for the New City. Anyway, I wish you’d been alive for this year’s Obie Awards at Webster Hall on Monday night—well, you and a lot of other folks, actually, but you in particular. Here’s why: For one thing, the show wasn’t glamorous or spectacular, which you would’ve appreciated, given your “Tom Trash” persona. NY1 didn’t send cameras, neither the presenters nor the recipients could figure out which of the microphones worked, and there was so much loud talking from the bar and balcony that award presenter Jonathan Pryce blurted out: “Should we play bingo? Would that help?”
Even so, one could feel a generational shift—you would’ve been able to see your aesthetic children grabbing Obies and becoming the establishment; folks who, under your influence, made performance out of junk: playwright Erin Courtney (whose wedding you officiated) and director Ken Rus Schmoll, writer-director Richard Maxwell, Elevator Repair Service. Jim Fletcher, who you called “downtown’s finest actor,” praised the attendees because “everybody got their ass in the room.” People who worked with them (and probably you at some point) got lauded, too: lighting designer Mark Barton, Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra, director Jay Scheib (“one of our most theatrically inventive and truly powerful directors,” you once said), actors/sound guys Matt Tierney and Ben Williams, and actor Steven Boyer, who won for Hand to God, which he called “a dramedy about a devil puppet.” Right up your alley, Tom!
It also might have given you a thrill to see younger, mainstreamier actors like presenters Tracee Chimo and Justin Bartha flummoxed by the predominant atmosphere of low-rent awkwardness created by those who, like Maxwell, identify as “show trash.” Jim Fletcher’s ass was invoked more than once. Before accepting her acting Obie for Tribes, Susan Pourfar exclaimed, “Oh, my God, it’s Jonathan Pryce!” and warned us that she would “dork out” for a second by recalling her childhood desire to meet people who made intelligent theater. When Linda Lavin, who won for performance in The Lyons, took a 10-second pregnant pause that silenced the revelers, she eventually said: “I’m not silent so that you will be. I just want to be in the moment.”
The generational shift wasn’t limited to the new guard, either, Tom—the young’uns acted out in their millennialway. Grant recipients the Bushwick Starr and the Debate Society tried to remain professional but ended by thanking their mothers, their dads, their baby, and “anyone who’s ever bought anything from our benefit stoop sales.”
Plenty of other high-quality stuff you would’ve enjoyed garnered a whimsical plaque, too—they wrote the word “Obie” in a circus font on the certificate this year. Milk Like Sugar playwright Kirsten Greenidge and actress Cherise Boothe won; Amy Herzog’s play 4000 Miles took Best New American Play, and its two lead actors, Gabriel Ebert and Mary Louise Wilson, shared an Obie—I bet you would’ve liked the scene in that play where the kid smokes pot with his Communist grandma.
And while Michael Feingold reminded us that we still have those who have passed away in our memory, that’s not always good enough, Tom. I still felt you should’ve been there, in the room, with Jim Fletcher’s ass.