Monday, October 8, 2018

Gratitude and Tequila

The sole reason I'm back in the U.S. today is the Artsies.

So if our return from Athens was decided based on the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards, it damn sure better be an entertaining evening. That's all I'm saying. After all, as a member of the Theatre Alliance Panel, I helped decide who would win what awards, so it's not like I was attending for the surprise of the winners.

Although, if I'm honest, I really didn't recall at least half of the winners until they were announced onstage. Fortunately for my self-esteem, it wasn't just me, either. Two other panelists and one theater critic admitted the same thing before the night was over.

After a day spent trying to get my Richmond groove back, I cleaned up, put on a new thrift store cocktail dress and set out on foot (and in cute, black platform shoes) to cover the five blocks to the November Theater. Before I'd even gone a half a block, a car approaching me slowed down and the window was rolled down.

"You sure do look beautiful," my next door neighbor observed from his car. "You sure do." Imagine how impressed he'd have been if I'd told him the dress cost me $7.50.

This year's Artsie's theme was "Location, Location, Location," incidentally, a name yours truly had come up with when the critics and panelists were trying to come up with a way to pay tribute to all the unique locations of Richmond theaters: a fire house, a tavern and gristmill, a Tudor mansion, a former radiator shop.

Even a building actually built to be a theater, namely the one we were sitting in tonight.

And if anyone knows how to dress up for an awards show, it's the theater crowd. So many sequins of every color, and then there were the women. Strapless, backless, low-cut and skin-tight, there were a whole lot of bodies on display.

As is always the case, there was a lot of poking fun at every part of the theater scene, from old queens to boring plays and everything in between. There was also much commentary, both political and personal, from the winners.

When Lee Meerovich won Best supporting actor in a musical for "Preludes," he concluded his thanks with, "Believe women! Believe survivors!" and got a roaring applause for it in these bruised post-Kavanaugh days.

Frequently, it was the winner's partner who got the grateful words, as when Happy Mahaney won best supporting actor in a play for "Appropriate" and immediately thanked his boyfriend. "You met me in a time of transition." Very sweet.

Humor abounded, sometimes intentional and sometimes not. When the cast of "Alice, A New Musical" did a couple of numbers, the screen over their heads read, "Alice, A New Musical" presents "Sweet Child o' Mine." Somewhere, Axl Rose was smiling.

Another time, presenter and perpetual wisecracker Maggie Bavolack cracked wise about Deborah Wagoner breaking her foot during the run of "Mary Poppins," quipping, "But I'm pretty sure she broke it carrying that whole show." Ouch.

When it was John Mincks and Jamar Jones' turn to present, they began by doing a dance to a Jamiroquai song, to hilarious results.

After an earlier joke about how Virginia Rep can afford to bring in expensive, out of town talent, when Nathaniel Shaw, Va Rep's artistic director accepted the award for special achievement in dance for Matthew Couvillon's work adhering to Jerome Robbins's choreography in"West Side Story," he acknowledged that Matthew was "one of those expensive, out of town people we got."

Fair enough because the dancing had been superb.

The evening's first full-on cryer was Donna Marie Miller when she won best actress in a supporting role for a play in "Food, Clothing and Shelter." Still wiping away mascara, she soldiered on. "Holy crap!" she exclaimed. "I wanna be funny and cute, but I can't."

It was a genuinely touching moment when Elizabeth Wyld won best supporting actress in a musical for "Fun Home," as she said, "Thank you for casting me because I'm an openly gay women." Now you know the crowd screamed and clapped for that.

Intermission was long, allowing more time to get drinks (the evening is a fundraiser, after all, for the Theatre Artists Fund of Greater Richmond, a noble cause) and mingle. I ran into a woman I knew from years ago who was kind enough to share that every time she reads one of my articles in Style Weekly, she's struck by my take on the subject.

Music to a writer's ears, in other words.

Sometimes, it was when the presenters went off script that the applause was loudest, as when Maggie Roop pointed out that Tennessee Dixon was the sole woman nominated for Outstanding Achievement in set design for a musical. She didn't win, but the crowd exploded at the observation.

It was almost as good as when she praised friend and co-presenter Audra Honaker by saying how impressed she was that Audra had put on a bra and left her house. Hey, don't judge.

Taking the stage to accept best actress in a leading role in a musical for "Wings," Bianca Bryan joked, "Sixth time is the charm!" and thanked her parents for paying for singing lessons. Susan Sanford, accepting her best actress in a leading role in a play for "Appropriate," announced, "All I can think of is the title of my future autobiography: Gratitude and Bourbon," before reminding those in the crowd who had sons that they "had to be raised to be amazing men."

As women, we will remind until it's standard operating procedure and probably even for a while after that. You got a problem with that?

Boisterous snapping and clapping were the order of the evening as the audience got rowdier with more drinks and fewer reasons to hold back. The Artsies are meant to be a celebration and this crowd knows something about celebrating itself.

Oh, sure, the critics and panelists were forced to stand and identify ourselves when our names were called, but no one was there to look at us.

Fact is, we put on bras and left the house to celebrate what a stellar theater town this is. I don't want to gush about how lucky we audience members are, but I just can't help it.

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