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Obies Honor Off-B'way: 'Waste,' Eileen Heckart, 'Jitney' Cast & Director Among Winners

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The best of Off- and Off-Off-Broadway were honored at the 45th annual Obie Awards, presented by the Village Voice at Webster Hall on Mon., May 15. The Obies have no nominees and set categories. Former Obie winners Claudia Shear and Mary Testa who was subbing for an ailing Patrick Stewart, hosted the evening. The Obies will be broadcast on the Metro Cable Channel on Mon., May 22 at 8 pm. The award for Best Production went to "The Carbon Copy Building," a multi-media work created by Ben Katchor, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Bob McGrath.

An unusual winner was Harley Granville Barker whose play "Waste" was presented this season by Theatre for a New Audience. "He's not here tonight, because he died in 1946," quipped presenter Amy Sedaris. The play, a political melodrama banned for 30 years on the British stage, was first written in 1906. This production was its first New York mounting and the Obie Committee judged it as a new work. The award was accepted by Jeffery Horowitz, artistic director of Theatre for a New Audience. Coincidentally, Horowitz was born the same year the playwright died. Byron Jennings, who played a leading role in the production, won an award for his performance.

Eileen Heckart continued picking up trophies for "The Waverly Gallery," her farewell stage performance. She has already won an Outer Critics, Lortel, and Drama Desk Award, and a special lifetime achievement Tony. She added Obie to her list of honors, accepting the award from Frances Sternhagen who revealed they first met when they were both in the 1967 movie "Up the Down Staircase."

Other performance Obies went to Colm Meaney ("The Cider House Rules Part One: Here in St. Clouds"); Lynne Thigpen ("Jar the Floor"); Elizabeth Marvel and Christopher Evan Welch (both for the New York Theatre Workshop revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire"); Charlayne Woodard ("In the Blood"); Lola Pashalinski ("Gertrude and Alice"); Dominique Dibbell ("Jet Lag"); Cynthia Hopkins ("Another Telepathic Thing"); Debra Monk ("Time of the Cuckoo"); Eddie Korbich ("Taking a Chance on Love"); and Deb Margolin (sustained excellence).

The cast of "Jitney" won a special ensemble performance Obie just as they did at the Drama Desks the night before. The play's director Marion McClinton took home a citation as well. Two "Jitney" designers-David Gallo (set) and Susan Hilferty (costumes)-won awards for sustained excellence. Other designers recognized for the body of their work were Jan Hartley (projections), and Christopher Akerlind (lighting). Mark Dendy was Obied for his choreography of the Manhattan Theatre Club version of "The Wild Party."

Special Obie Citations went to "Morning Song," a production by Jan Lauwers and Needcompany; Sarah E. Johnson for "Lava Love"; director Joe Mantello and performer-writer Marc Wolf for Wolf's one-man show "Another American: Asking and Telling"; The Builders Association and Diller + Scofidio for "Jet Lag"; Jesusa Rodriguez and Liliana Felipe for "Las Horas de Belen-A Book of Hours"; and Maria Irene Fornes for her playwriting and direction of "Letters from Cuba."

Bill Talen also won a speical Obie for his performances as the character "Reverend Billy" who incited audiences to rail against the corporate take-over of neighborhoods by companies like Starbucks. The giant coffee-shop chain happened to be a sponsor of the awards, which sent Talen off on a rant during his acceptance speech.

The Ross Wetzsteon Obie Award grant of $2,000 went to The Foundry. The award is named for the late Village Voice theatre editor. Additional grants of $3,330 each were awarded to Big Dance Theater, Circus Amok, and Five Myles. Avant-garde director-theatre artist Ping Chong was the recipient of the sustained acheivement award which was accompanied with a check for $1,000. Chong was a presenter at the ceremony, along with Viola Davis, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Kristine Nielsen, Cynthia Nixon, Amy Sedaris, Frances Sternhagen, Carmelita Tropicana, and James Urbaniak. Entertainment was provided by the cast of "The Bomb-itty of Errors" and the satiric cabaret duo Kiki & Herb.

The 1999-2000 Obie judges were Village Voice theatre editor Brian Parks (chairman), Voice critics Michael Feingold, Alisa Solomon, and James Hannaham, playwright Mac Wellman, set designer Neil Patel, director Jo Bonney, and performer Holly Hughes. Charles McNulty served as secretary to the committee.

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