"In my first acting class they told me I should imagine everyone naked," said the shy costume designer Rachel Anne Healy on Monday night as she peered out at an audience of grinning Chicago theater professionals. "Well," she said, recalling her long hours in fitting rooms all over town, "I've seen half of you naked."
Healy's droll acceptance speech for her work on "Lady Windermere's Fan" at the Northlight Theatre was one of the highlights of the 36th annual Joseph Jefferson Awards, which were presented in an unusually low-key but well-attended ceremony Monday night at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.
Nicole Parker and Keegan-Michael Key of MADtv served as hosts-and they fulfilled their duties with rather more deference than has been past practice at these awards. Nonetheless, since one of the nominated shows was called "The Sound of a Voice," Ashlee Simpson proved to be a good substitute for the usual lampooning of local pros.
In the annual horse race of Chicago's non-profit theaters, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and its epic production of "Rose Rage, Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3" emerged as the winner.
Edward Hall's production of "Rose Rage," which played recently in New York to generally favorable reviews, snagged four Jeff Awards, including a nod for best production-play. No other single production got as many.
Other shows that did well included the Goodman Theatre's production of "The Light in the Piazza," expected soon in New York, which was honored with the Jeff for best production-musical.
"I've never been nominated for anything, let alone won," said Victoria Clark, who flew in from New York for the ceremony and won for best actress in a musical. "Although I did buy about 5,000 raffle tickets for my son's school this year."Like many of the out-of-towners, including "Piazza" director Bartlett Sher, Clark heaped praise upon Chicago as a serious, supportive place to do new works for the theater.
Director Gary Griffin, who has been out of town working on a pre-Broadway production of "The Color Purple," began his acceptance speech for his work on the Chicago Shakespeare Production of "A Little Night Music" with the clearly heartfelt words, "It's good to be home."
Victory Gardens Theater continued its dominant role in Chicago when it comes to new dramatic plays. Charles Smith's well-received "Free Men of Color" shared the best new work spot with Joanna McClelland Glass' "Trying" (currently playing off-Broadway).
In one of the only snafus during an otherwise highly efficient evening, Glass' award initially was overlooked, leaving her to think herself a loser during Smith's acceptance speech. "Well, this is a surprise," the Naperville-based playwright said, to loud laughter, when she finally made it to the podium.
To no one's surprise, Fritz Weaver was honored for best actor in a play for his work on "Trying," while Rondi Reed unexpectedly beat out Barbara Robertson ("The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?") and Kati Brazda ("Trying") for best actress in a play.
Reed praised her director, Rick Snyder. "I was married to him on stage," Reed said, "longer than I was married in real life."
About Face, which saw its productions of both "Winesburg, Ohio" and "Pulp" honored with Jeff Awards, also had a good night. Accepting the Jeff for best new adaptation for "Winesburg," artistic director Eric Rosen thanked "the people who gave us tens of thousands of dollars to make this show possible."
"We lost all of it," Rosen went on to say.
It was unclear how firmly his tongue was in his cheek. But like most other people on the flower-decked stage, he sported a broad grin.
Here is a list of the winners:
- New work: Charles Smith, "Free Man of Color," Victory Gardens Theater; Joanna McClelland Glass, "Trying," Victory Gardens Theater.
- New adaptation: Eric Rosen, Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman, "Winesburg, Ohio," About Face Theatre.
- Production-play: "Rose Rage, Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 and 3," Chicago Shakespeare Theater; "Trying," Victory Gardens Theater.
- Production-musical: "The Light in the Piazza," Goodman Theatre in association with the Intiman Theatre.
- Director-play: Edward Hall, "Rose Rage," Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
- Director-musical: Gary Griffin, "A Little Night Music," Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
- Ensemble: "Rose Rage," Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
- Actress in a principal role-play: Rondi Reed, "The Fall to Earth," Steppenwolf Theatre Co.
- Actor in a principal role-play: Fritz Weaver, "Trying," Victory Gardens Theater.
- Actress in a supporting role-play: Deanna Dunagan, "I Never Sang for my Father," Steppenwolf Theatre Co.
- Actor in a supporting role-play: Scott Parkinson, "Rose Rage," Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
- Actress in a principal role-musical: Victoria Clark, "The Light in the Piazza," Goodman Theatre in association with the Intiman Theatre.
- Actor in a principal role-musical: Ross Lehman, "A Man of No Importance," Apple Tree Theatre.
- Actress in a supporting role-musical: Samantha Spiro, "A Little Night Music," Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
- Actor in a supporting role-musical: Jeff Dumas, "Winesburg, Ohio," About Face Theatre.
- Actor in a revue: Eugene Fleming, "Ain't Misbehavin'," Marriott Theatre.
- Scenic design: James Leonard Joy, "The Taming of the Shrew," Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
- Costume design: Rachel Anne Healy, "Lady Windermere's Fan," Northlight Theatre.
- Lighting design: Christopher Akerlind, "The Light in the Piazza," Goodman Theatre in association with the Intiman Theatre.
- Sound design: Ray Nardelli and Joshua Horvath, "Electricidad," Goodman Theatre.
- Choreography: Marc Robin, "West Side Story," Marriott Theatre.
- Original incidental music: Patricia Kane, Amy Warren and Andre Pluess, "Pulp," About Face Theatre.
- Musical direction: Alan Johnson, "The Sound of a Voice," Court Theatre in association with American Repertory Theatre.
- "Other" category: David Pleasant, "Crowns," Goodman Theatre (Special Achievement in Percussion).
- Special Jeff awards: Bella Itkin and Court Theatre.