The sight of two men in giant clown shoes and oversized pants shuffling on a commuter platform lingers in the mind. From the Signature Theater's production of Old Hats, winner of this year's "Outstanding Alternative Theatrical Experience" Award at last week's Lucille Lortel Awards, the skit, featuring Bill Irwin and David Shiner evokes Chaplin's little tramp and a history of slapstick. Unlike the Tony Awards, which are presented interspersed with acts from Broadway shows too, the Lucille Lortel Awards, a night of honors and entertainment from over 100 plays off-Broadway, takes much of its fun from the fact that the show would not be televised.
The evening's co-host Aasif Mandvi (with Maura Tierney in Lucky Guy), nominated for his role in this year's Disgraced, was bested for "Outstanding Lead Actor" by The Whale's Shuler Hensley; Mandvi feigned disgrace. Hensley accepted his award asking everyone to look at his wife who was so "hot." And so it went with the revival of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson winning the lion's share of honors, including awards for lead actors Roslyn Ruff, Chuck Cooper, and outstanding director Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Cynthia Nixon presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Roundabout Theater's Todd Haines. Also presenting were Jake Gyllenhaal, Zosia Mamet, Ben Foster, Anna Chlumsky, John Slattery, Jennifer Westfeldt, Josh Hamilton, Martha Plimpton, Richard Kind, David Morse, David Hyde Pierce, Christopher Lloyd, among many others.
For Tony Awards, which will be televised, honors should go to the revival of Horton Foote's Trip to Bountiful at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, and the show's luminous star Cicely Tyson. Onstage for the entire play, the ageless (she says 88) Tyson's performance as Mrs. Carrie Watts, put simply, must be seen. It is a standout in a play featuring excellent ensemble work with Cuba Gooding Jr., as her cuckolded son Ludie and Vanessa Williams, as his diva wife, Jessie Mae. Outstanding too is Condola Rashad who plays Thelma, a young woman on a Greyhound bus who helps Mrs. Watts run away from Houston to Bountiful, her old homestead. Rolling her big eyes, Thelma exudes the kindness that the charismatic and wily old woman elicits from everyone, except her very spoiled daughter-in-law, a rival for humorously manipulative shenanigans. Along the way, this old woman sucks everyone in, from station clerk (Arthur French) to sheriff (Tom Wopat). As we all arrive at Bountiful, now a dilapidated house in a gorgeous field, Jeff Cowie's set as lit by Rui Rita, we see theater heaven.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.