Barrymores Gaze at 'Constant Star'

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PHILADELPHIA - At the beginning of the 10th annual Barrymore Awards ceremony on Monday night, the focus was squarely on Philadelphia. By the end of the evening, however, it was the city of Wilmington in the Diamond State that shown most brightly. Following Philadelphia City Councilman Michael Nutter's proclaiming the week of Nov. 15 Greater Philadelphia Theatre Week, the Delaware Theatre Company proceeded to sweep aside all competition in capturing seven awards for its production of writer-director Tazewell Thompson's "Constant Star."

A musical tribute to turn-of-the-century civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, Thompson's play has over the past few years become a popular choice among the nation's regional theatres, and the Barrymore judges clearly felt the same, recognizing the show for outstanding musical, direction of a musical (Thompson), musical ensemble, musical direction (Dianne Adams McDowell), set design (Donald Eastman), sound design (Fabian Obispo), and costume design (Merrily Murray-Walsh).

The Delaware Theatre Company's seven awards also made it the big winner among the area's companies, followed by Philadelphia's Wilma Theater and Lantern Theatre Company, with three apiece.

All three of the Wilma's awards were for its production of "Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train," which garnered Barrymores for outstanding production of a play, direction of a play (Blanka Zizka, who donned a George Bush mask for her acceptance speech), and supporting actor in a play (John Douglas Thompson).

Representing the Lantern Theatre were Peter DeLaurier, who won the award for leading actor in a play for his performance in "Underneath the Lintel"; Aaron Cromie, who captured the choreography/movement award for his work in "The Comedy of Errors"; and the "Comedy of Errors" cast, which took the prize for outstanding ensemble in a play.

Another Delaware theatre, the new Contemporary Stage Company, was recognized for its production of "Collected Stories," with Barrymores going to Lynn Redgrave and Karina Mackenzie for outstanding leading and supporting actress in a play, respectively.

For outstanding leading actor and actress in a musical, David Colbert won for his performance in the City Theater Company (yet another Wilmington-based group) staging of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," while Mary Martello won a Barrymore for her work in the Arden Theatre Company's production of CafÄ‚Š Puttanesca.

In what was perhaps the most hotly contested category, playwright Thomas Gibbons won the award for outstanding new play for "Permanent Collection," his provocative exploration of art and racism, which received an admirable production by InterAct Theatre Company.

Always the most anticipated award is the F. Otto Haas Award for Emerging Theatre Artist -- in part because it includes a $10,000 cash prize. Reflecting the strength of the area's young theatre artists, for the first time the award included six nominees instead of five. This year's recipient was set, sound, and lighting designer Jorge Cousineau, who as a native of Germany called the award the "settling argument" in his decision to remain in the area.

At the other end of the age spectrum, award-winning playwright-actor-director Louis Lippa (who has authored 22 works over the course of his illustrious career) was presented with the Barrymore Award for lifetime achievement.

In an effort to shorten the running time of the ceremony following last year's four-hour marathon, host Tony Braithwaite announced that presenters would be accepting awards for winners not in attendance. As neither Tazewell nor any of "Constant Star" 's designers or cast were present, it was a scenario that was repeated often. The other four shows nominated for outstanding overall musical production entertained the large audience with songs, highlighted by a raucous number from City Theater Company's production of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."