Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pulse: Break a leg, MoCo: Fab four theater groups compete for Hayes award - Gazette

Pulse | Ellyn Wexler | Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Helen Hayes Awards honor excellence in professional theater throughout the D.C. area, and four Montgomery County theater groups are in the running for 10 of them. Adventure Theatre, Imagination Stage, Olney Theatre Center and Round House Theatre are among the contenders.

Named for the late actress known as the First Lady of the American Theater, the organization purports to strengthen the region by building theater, one of its most powerful assets. In addition to the awards, it works behind the scenes to build audiences and educate youth.

A panel of artistic directors chose 63 judges to score some 2,700 plays — including performances, designs, productions and direction — within the one-year judging cycle. Judges were separated into four panels: musical productions, new plays and two for plays that don't fit those categories. Eight judges from each panel saw each eligible production; evaluations had to be submitted within 24 hours of seeing a show. The combined point total from the judges who saw each show determined the nominees.

Glen Echo Park's Adventure Theatre, the area's longest-running children's theater, received three nominations, all for its production of "Good Night Moon." The potential awards are for Michael J. Bobbitt, the group's producing artistic director, for Outstanding Choreography, Resident Production; Mary Hall Surface, Outstanding Director, Resident Musical, and the Canadian Embassy Award for Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical.

Bobbitt credits the community for supporting the work of the board, staff, artists and volunteers who "have worked tirelessly to elevate our artistry and visibility in the community.

"These three nominations," he observes, "help propel family-friendly theater as a legitimate theater form."

Imagination Stage, Bethesda-based producer of theater to "nurture, challenge and empower young people of all abilities," garnered a nomination for Kathleen Geldard's Outstanding Costume Design, Resident Production, for "The Neverending Story."

"The whole design team," says director Janet Stanford, "was brilliant and highly collaborative. We began meeting nine months before the production in order to solve the daunting challenge of putting an epic fantasy on our stage."

As for Geldard, she adds, "Kathleen was incredibly inventive and let her imagination go wild. She also had to be flexible once the designs were being built. Certain pieces that looked great on paper did not work well in rehearsal."

For the mostly adult crowd, Round House Theatre and Olney Theatre Center each garnered a hat trick of nominations.

For Round House, two plays share the honors. Edward Gero is vying for the Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Play, for his work in "Nixon's Nixon." And Round House's "Alice" has earned nods for Outstanding Costume Design, Resident Production, for Marianne Custer's work, as well as the Canadian Embassy Award for Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Play.

"We're thrilled, absolutely thrilled, to be nominated," says Blake Robison, Round House's producing artist director. "It's a testament to the creativity of our family of artists."

Olney Theatre is nominated for two plays, too. "Rabbit Hole" is up for Charlie Morrison's Outstanding Lighting Design, Resident Production, and the Canadian Embassy Award for Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Play. Deidra LaWan Starnes is nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress, Resident Play, in "Doubt: A Parable."

Jim Petosa, Olney's artistic director, praises Starnes' work as "superb," and Morrison's as "completely representative of his usual excellence." As for the "Rabbit Hole" ensemble, he says the nomination is "a testament to their collective talent, generosity, the play itself, the quality of the direction, and the theater that advocates for such excellence."

Petosa points out that a mix of "joy for the work that has been held up for celebration [and] rueful disbelief at the work that has been ignored" always accompanies the awards. Despite such "vagaries of response to praise … and dismissal," Petosa says, "we have to take a moment to celebrate good news."

And all the good news will be celebrated, and the awards presented, at the 25th annual Helen Hayes Awards at 8 p.m. Monday at Warner Theatre, 13th and E streets N.W. in the District. For information, call 202-337-4572 or visit

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