By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
In what may be the last act of the Barrymore Awards, the region’s professional theater honors, three very different productions — a play about a lesbian couple’s disagreement over what constitutes art, a musical celebrating the fancy hats of African American church-going women, and an offbeat take on Shakespeare — top the nominees among the 2011-2012 season’s shows.
Each received 10 nominations for the region’s professional theater honors; all the nominees will be announced Thursday.
Annie Baker’s comic drama Body Awareness, at the Wilma Theater, concerns two women and a teenage son during “Body Awareness Week” at the college where one of them teaches, and their angst over a house guest who photographs women in the nude.
Wilmington’s Delaware Theatre Company, eligible for the regional awards, got its mother lode of nominations for the high-octane musical Crowns, which focuses on Sunday finery — specifically, hats — to celebrate the values of African American church life.
The third production was part of 2011’s Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe, the often outré mix of theater and dance that takes over Philadelphia stages in early September. During the festival, Pig Iron Theatre Company staged Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with a keen eye on its drunks, noblemen and servants. Some actors zoomed on and off stage on a skateboard ramp.
In all, 20 companies are represented in the nominations. The Wilma drew a total of 18 nods, for several productions, followed by People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern with 16. Philadelphia Theatre Company and the Walnut Street Theatre each drew 14. Pig Iron and the Delaware Theatre Company had 10 apiece, all for Twelfth Night and Crowns.
The Theater Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, which first presented the Barrymores in 1995 and has overseen them since, dissolved earlier this year, leaving the future of the awards — its most publicly visible function — unresolved.
Declaring that its work to strengthen the theater community was complete in a region that now boasts more than 50 professional stages, and that it no longer wanted to compete for contributions with the theaters it serves, the alliance board ceased operations except for a one-person staff and a consultant to tie up loose ends by year’s end. Judging for the Barrymore Awards, however, was in full swing, with 62 judges assessing about 150 plays and musicals through the season.
In June, the board passed a resolution that 2011-2012 Barrymores would be awarded. “It recognizes the importance of the process, and the work of the theaters and voters,” said Martin Cohen of the Cultural Planning Group, a consultant facilitating the Alliance’s dismantling and overseeing the awards.
In 2012-2013, “there certainly won’t be a Barrymore process,” Cohen said. “The alliance is not in a position to manage that process.” Conversations are only beginning in the theater community, “thinking about what is the value of the Barrymores, what would it take to make sure there’s some sort of future,” he said.
This year’s awards will be presented without the usual fanfare. A list of nominees is being e-mailed and posted online Thursday to theater companies. (Find it at www.theatrealliance.org/2012-nominees.) Another e-mail and posting will announce the winners on an October day not yet determined.
Gone are the medallions that signified most Barrymores, replaced by certificates. Gone also is the October celebration — in recent years at the Walnut Street Theatre — that brought theater people and supporters together for the opening of the envelopes and ended with a party in the Benjamin Franklin House ballroom.
Instead, a group of artistic directors from a wide range of local theaters plans to present the Barrymore’s three special awards Oct. 22 at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, with a reception to follow in the lobby; the Kimmel is donating the space. Its organizers are calling the event Theater Philadelphia and will sell tickets to the public for $25 — about a third the price of last year’s Barrymore tickets.
The ceremony will posthumously recognize Jiri Zizka, who co-founded Wilma Theater with his then-wife, Blanka, for a lifetime achievement award for his work that enlarged the notion of theater here for artists and audiences alike. Zizka died at age 58 of liver failure in January. Blanka Zizka, still the Wilma’s artistic director, receives a director nomination Thursday for Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches.
Also at Theatre Philadelphia, the Barrymore will be announced for two privately supported cash-prize awards. The Brown Martin Philadelphia Award, worth $25,000 for a production that shows how theater can illuminate the meaning of diversity, will go to one of five nominees: People’s Light & Theatre in Malvern for Fallow; the Wilma for Our Class, Flashpoint Theatre for Slip/Shot, Society Hill Playhouse for Branch, or Mauckingbird Theatre for The Temperamentals.
And the $10,000 F. Otto Haas Award to an emerging artist will go to one of five theater artists: Charlotte Ford, Justin Jain, Steve Pacek, Thom Weaver or Jacqueline Pardue Goldfinger. Weaver is nominated for four other Barrymores — one for set design, three for lighting — and Goldfinger is nominated for her play Slip/Shot, produced by Flashpoint, as best new play.
The others in that category are Kenneth Lin’s Fallow at People’s Light, Elsa Davis’ The History of Light at Trenton’s Passage Theatre, Ray Saraceni’s Maroons: The Anthracite Grid from Norristown’s Iron Age Theatre, and Madi Distefano’s Meanwhile … from Brat Productions.
In addition to Pig Iron’s Twelfth Night and the Wilma’s Body Awareness, nominees for best production of a play are the Wilma once again, for Angels in America, Theatre Exile’s The Aliens, and Philadelphia Theatre Company’s The Outgoing Tide.
In addition to Delaware Theatre Company’s Crowns, two shows at the Walnut are best-musical-production nominees: A Grand Night for Singing, staged in its intimate third-floor Independence Studio, and its main-stage The King and I. The other nominees are Philadelphia Theatre Company’s The Scottsboro Boys and 11th Hour Theatre Company’s Ordinary Days.
Three actresses — Mary Martello, Genevieve Perrier and Elizabeth Heflin — received two acting nominations apiece, for different plays. Costume designer Rosemary McKelvey received three, and sound designer Christopher Colucci received three, plus another for the original music behind People’s Light’s Of Mice and Men. Music director Eric Ebbenga received two, as did choreographer Samantha Bellomo.
Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at www.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
For a list of all nominees: http://www.theatrealliance.org/2012-nominees