Pittsfield — A sold-out house of theater professionals, supporters and fans filled Mr. Finn’s Cabaret in the basement at the Lee & Sydelle Blatt Center for the Arts, Barrington Stage Company’s second stage in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on Sunday night, November 13. They were there to celebrate a first-time event, the First Annual Berkshire Theatre Awards presented by the newly minted Berkshire Theatre Critics Association. Founded by North Adams resident and critic Larry Murray, from Berkshire On Stage, with the assistance of a small group of other devoted theater-goers and writers, the awards are intended to be a yearly celebration of the finest work done in the region between October 1 and September 30 every year. One hundred and twenty-seven finalists in 25 categories were celebrated with a total of 27 awards presented.
With Macey Levin of Aglet Theatre, also a critic, I had the joy of hosting this occasion. Standing on a stage in front of the people I most often write about was an unusual and perfectly pleasurable instance of tables turned and restored as Macey and I brought to the stage the inevitable winners. For almost two hours the parade of talent to and from the cabaret platform amazed and delighted me along with the audience who were universally accepting of each and every nominee when their names and shows and theater companies were announced. While the awards were limited (there were two pairs of winners who shared the prize in their categories) the kudos were unbounded.
The award selection covered theaters in four states: from Catskill’s Bridge Street Theatre to the west, the Mac-Haydn in Chatham, the Ghent Playhouse in Ghent, N.Y. and New Lebanon’s Theater Barn to Chester Theater to the east of Berkshire County; from Sharon Playhouse in Connecticut to Oldcastle Theater in Bennington Vermont, Dorset Theatre Festival and Weston Playhouse and, of course, our own county treasures, Berkshire Theatre Group, Shakespeare & Company, Barrington Stage Company and Williamstown Theatre Festival.
All of these companies were highlighted in a slide show that ran for 45 minutes to highlight the year of achievement, along with a photo of local youngster Michael Wartella who is starring as Mickey Rooney in Goodspeed Musical’s “Chasing Rainbows,” seemingly headed for Broadway in the spring. In the first of two entertainment breaks, nominee David Joseph for his performance as Charlie Chaplin in Oldcastle’s production of a new play,”The Consul, The Tramp and America’s Sweetheart,” played a hilarious scene with his co-star in that production Elizabeth Aspenlieder. Through the comedy of words and sour looks, they celebrated the achievements of writers who compose the plays they are privileged to perform in for audiences around the region and elsewhere. Aspenlieder had previously won an Elliot Norton Award in Boston for her work in Teresa Rebeck’s play “Bad Dates.” BTA founder Larry Murray was instrumental in establishing that award, Boston’s highest tribute to theatre professionals.
Later in the evening I had the pleasure of “interviewing” BTA winner Debra Jo Rupp on stage about her career and her goals. In the course of our unrehearsed chat we discovered that we had both auditioned for the Broadway edition of “Hair.” Neither of us was cast in spite of my excellent curls and her diminutive, bright-smiled charm. Rupp won her award for her performance in Barrington Stage Company’s production of “Kimberly Akimbo.”
Barrington Stage actually swept the awards winning 20 out of the 27 presented, including the previously undisclosed Larry Murray Award given for outstanding service to the community through theater. Julianne Boyd, accepting the award, was visibly moved to be celebrated for her work in Berkshire County enriching the lives of her audience-family, from the youngest to the oldest. So moved was she that, on leaving the stage, she forgot to take the statuette she had been awarded.
Larry Murray, ill and on oxygen, was a constant inspiration to the group of critics who bonded over these awards. Seventeen critics from all around the region voted for their favorites. Sadly, I was the only one of them who actually saw every play and musical up for nomination and during the evening I called upon the attending representatives of the theaters to meet new critics, pointing them out from the stage.
Many told me afterward that they had indeed taken advantage of this opportunity to introduce their own productions to critics who had not been seeing their work. With luck this will bring about some vital changes to next year’s ceremony when more theaters may have better exposure and stand a finer chance of joining the winner’s circle.
With food provided by critic Gloria Miller, the light and humorous banter of the hosts (Macey and me) keeping the crowd laughing and enjoying the evening, and the special toast at the end to Larry, the Theater itself and to the future of the Arts in our region, the evening was brought to a rollicking close.
Critics aren’t usually in the spotlight but on Sunday night Macey Levin and I enjoyed that particular honor. There is something uniquely delicious about this opportunity, to feel the wave of applause and the power of laughter from the other side of the room. With each award it was clear to both of us how wonderful the world we work in has become for us. We usually sit somewhere behind the third row, on the aisle, pens in hand, listening and watching intently what goes on upstage and offstage and everywhere except where we are. For one night we had the opportunity to appreciate what young actors feel. Nehassaiu deGannes is just such an individual, winning her first award, her first nomination, for an award for her work in Shakespeare & Company’s production of the play “Or,” which gave her three special roles to play.
Helping Murray create the Berkshire Theatre Awards are members of the Founders’ Committee: J. Peter Bergman, Robert Bruyr, Gail M. Burns, Macey Levin, Gloria Miller and Ed Sedarbaum. Other voting members of the Berkshire Theatre Critics Association include: Mark G. Auerbach, Jeffrey Borak, Dan Dwyer, Helen Epstein, Bob Goepfert, Charles Giuliano, Rex Hearn, Chris Rohmann, Fred Sokol, Stephen Sorokoff, Robert Sugarman and Sally Sugarman.
The complete list of awards winners can be seen below. For a complete list of nominees contact Gail M. Burns, a critic who acted as press rep for these awards.
The Winners of The First Annual Berkshire Theatre Awards
Supporting Performance (Female) Intimate Theatre – Dana Harrison in Holy Laughter (WAM Theatre)
Supporting Performance (Male) Intimate Theatre – Jeff McCarthy in Broadway Bounty Hunter (BSC)
Direction of Musical – Intimate Theatre – Julianne Boyd – Broadway Bounty Hunter (BSC)
Choreography – Large Theatre – Joshua Bergasse Pirates of Penzance (BSC)
Costume Design – Play or Musical – Jess Goldstein Pirates of Penzance (BSC)
Choreography – Intimate Theatre – Jeffrey Page -Broadway Bounty Hunter (BSC)
Direction – Intimate Theatre – Eric Tucker Cry Havoc (Shakespeare & Co)
Lighting Design – Play or Musical Jason Lyons Pirates of Penzance (BSC)
Supporting Performance (Male) Large Theatre – John Hadden – The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Shakespeare) & Andre Ware – American Son (BSC)
Scenic Design Play or Musical – Beowulf Borritt – Pirates of Penzance (BSC)
Sound Design Play or Musical – Scott Kilian – Constellations (Berkshire Theatre Group)Male
Actor (Male) – Intimate Theatre – Stephan Wolfert – Cry Havoc (Shakespeare & Co.)
Actor (Female) Intimate Theatre – Debra Jo Rupp – Kimberly Akimbo (BSC)
Direction Musical – Large Theatre – John Rando – Pirates of Penzance (BSC)
Production of a New Musical – Broadway Bounty Hunter (BSC)
Production of Musical Intimate Theatre – Broadway Bounty Hunter (BSC)
Performance Male Actor – Large Theatre – Will Swenson – Pirates of Penzance (BSC)
Production of Play- Intimate Theatre – Cry Havoc (Shakespeare & Co.)
Performance Supporting Female Actor – Large Theatre – Nehassaiu deGannes – Or, (Shakespeare) & Scarlett Strallen – Pirates of Penzance (BSC)
Direction of Play – Large Theatre – Julianne Boyd – American Son (BSC)
Performance Female Actor – Large Theatre – Tamara Tunie – American Son (BSC)
Production of New Play – American Son – (BSC)
Production of Musical – Large Theatre – Pirates of Penzance (BSC)
Production of Play – Large Theatre – American Son (BSC)
Larry Murray Award – Julianne Boyd
Photos: Stephen Sorokoff