Wilma Theater's 'In the Next Room' tops at Barrymores

Theatre Horizon director Matthew Decker (left) with his parents Ray and Michele. Decker won best director of a musical for "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
Theatre Horizon director Matthew Decker (left) with his parents Ray and Michele. Decker won best director of a musical for "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 04, 2011

The Wilma Theater led all others Monday night at the 2011 Barrymore Awards, the region's professional theater honors, for its production of Sarah Ruhl's offbeat, often funny play In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, which won in eight categories.

Warm, rousing cheers greeted the announcements of winners at the Walnut Street Theatre, which was packed with theater artists and fans.

Ruhl's two-act work, about the early medical use of vibrators to cure women of "hysteria," had been on Broadway only two seasons back. The Wilma's was among its first subsequent stagings and won for best production of a play last season, as well as for ensemble acting. Wilma artistic director Blanka Zizka took home a Barrymore for the best director of a play.

Krista Apple won for her supporting portrayal of a no-nonsense nurse, and the production's other awards were for Thom Weaver's lighting, Oana Botez-Ban's Victorian-era costumes, Christopher Colucci's sound design, and Alexis Distler's set, which turned several rooms into a wintry garden during the last minutes. The Wilma rebuilt its seating area so the play could be performed salon-style, in the middle of the audience, rather than on its proscenium stage.

The best production of a musical went to an Arden Theatre Company children's show - The Flea and the Professor, a world premiere the company commissioned from Jordan Harrison and Richard Gray, based on Hans Christian Andersen's tales. Its leading actor, Rob McClure, won a second Barrymore medallion for the play, as best actor in a musical; he played a professor who has only a flea in his vest to accompany him on what becomes a world tour.

Both In the Next Room and The Flea and the Professor had received the most nominations for this year's awards, a dozen apiece.

About 700 attendees, some in formal wear, had gathered for the 17th annual awards ceremony. During the program the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, which organizes the awards, stressed a theme of education.

Many presenters spoke of their initial brushes with theater. The evening's host, 6ABC news anchor Rick Williams, spoke of his 9-year-old son's audition for a role. Presenters included Mayor Nutter and Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, who won the distinguished-artist Barrymore. McNally has premiered several plays at Philadelphia Theatre Company, whose producing artistic director, Sara Garonzik, presented the award.

McNally said he was grateful to Philadelphia and "your wonderful audiences, who aren't afraid of being part of the process of bringing new plays to the stage."

One of the region's longest-running theater gurus to young people - Harry Dietzler, for 35 years the force behind the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center - was given a lifetime achievement award.

"I will venture to guess that every nominee and award-winner tonight can point to some person or some moment in their childhood when someone ignited the spark of excitement in them that turned into a passion for theater," said Dietzler, who was nominated by 30 Rock's Tina Fey, one of his former charges. Two others - Terrence Nolen and Amy Murphy, leaders of the Arden - presented the award.

The ceremony opened with a short segment from We Write South Philly, a play developed in a program with South Philadelphia High School, whose principal, Otis D. Hackney III, worked with the Wilma, 1812 Productions, and Philadelphia Young Playwrights to create the piece.

Hackney and the theaters won an award for theater education for the project, which involved more than 50 students who studied acting and playwriting over three semesters, and was a response to incidents in which African American students attacked Asian students at the school in 2009.

For one of the region's smaller professional companies - Theatre Horizon - it was a big night. Horizon took four Barrymores, second only to the Wilma, all for its production of the popular musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which it produced in the top-floor performance area called Centre Theater on DeKalb Street in Norristown, where the company is based.

The cast of the show won for outstanding musical ensemble. Also honored were Horizon director Matthew Decker, and two performers for supporting portrayals: Michael Doherty as a student speller who has little confidence, and Rachel Camp as a sad girl with absentee parents.

Horizon's wins underscore two dynamics about professional theater in metropolitan Philadelphia, which has exploded over the last decade to include 51 companies, the most ever. First, top-quality theater is no longer confined to Center City, where the critical mass of stages remain. And second, the many smaller professional companies are coming into their own.

It was also a landmark night for local actor James Ijames, who won a best supporting actor award for portraying the young counterman of the Arden's Superior Donuts, then later in the evening received the $10,000 F. Otto Haas Award for an emerging theater artist.

Passage Theatre Company, from Trenton, won the $25,000 Brown Martin Philadelphia Award, given to a theater that encourages the building of community, for a production called Love and Communication, about autism.

Nationally known writer-performer Anna Deavere Smith won as best leading actress in a play, for her one-woman Let Me Down Easy, a compelling look at the nation's health-care system through the words of people, both notable and obscure, she had interviewed. The Philadelphia Theatre Company staged it here.

Melinda Chua was named best musical actress, for her title performance in the Walnut's Miss Saigon, and Dan Hodge as best actor in a play, for his role as a bumbling British detective in Delaware Theatre Company's Around the World in 80 Days.

This season's new-play Barrymore went to Michael Hollinger, for his Ghost-Writer at the Arden, where he is tantamount to playwright-in-residence. For outstanding choreography or movement, Waldo Warshaw and Aaron Cromie won for their staging of fights in Theatre Exile's bloody, funny The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Alex Bechtel won for his music direction of a Frank Sinatra tribute called My Way, at the Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio.

After the program the audience strolled to a reception a few blocks away at the Benjamin Franklin House ballroom.


2011 Barrymore Awards

Play In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Wilma Theater

Musical The Flea and the Professor, Arden Theatre Company

New Play Michael Hollinger, Ghost-Writer, Arden Theatre Company

Director, Play Blanka Zizka, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Wilma Theater

Director, Musical Matthew Decker, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Theatre Horizon

Leading Actor, Play Dan Hodge, Around the World in 80 Days, Delaware Theatre Company

Leading Actress, Play Anna Deavere Smith, Let Me Down Easy, Philadelphia Theatre Company

Leading Actor, Musical Rob McClure, The Flea and the Professor, Arden Theatre Company

Leading Actress, Musical Melinda Chua, Miss Saigon, Walnut Street Theatre

Supporting Actor, Play James Ijames, Superior Donuts, Arden Theatre Company

Supporting Actress, Play Krista Apple, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Wilma Theater

Supporting Actor, Musical Michael Doherty, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Theatre Horizon

Supporting Actress, Musical Rachel Camp, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Theatre Horizon

Ensemble, Play In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Wilma Theater

Ensemble, Musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Theatre Horizon

Set Design Alexis Distler, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Wilma Theater

Lighting Design Thom Weaver, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Wilma Theater

Costume Design Oana Botez-Ban, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Wilma Theater

Sound Design and Original Music Christopher Colucci, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Wilma Theater

Music Direction Alex Bechtel, My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, Walnut Street Theatre

Choreography / Movement Waldo Warshaw and Aaron Cromie, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Theatre Exile

F. Otto Haas Award / Emerging Theater Artist James Ijames

Brown Martin Philadelphia Award Passage Theatre, Love and Communication

New Approaches to Collaborations Robert Smythe and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

Theater Education and Community Service Award Otis D. Hackney III, principal, South Philadelphia High School

Lifetime Achievement Award Harry Dietzler, executive and artistic director, Upper Darby Summer Stage

Distinguished Artist in the Theater Terrence McNally


Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter.

|
|
|
|
|