“A Strange Loop,” Michael R. Jackson’s meta-musical about race, sexuality and musical theater, and “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” Will Arbery’s play about faith and politics in a corner of the conservative Catholic world, were the most-honored shows Tuesday night at the annual Obie Awards.
The creative teams and ensembles of both productions were given special citations, and their writers were given playwriting awards at the ceremony, which honors shows staged Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway. This year’s ceremony had been scheduled to take place in May before a live audience; it was moved online and delayed by the coronavirus, and then delayed again by protests over racial injustice that have swept the nation.
The Obies, copresented by the American Theatre Wing and the Village Voice, are an unusual ceremony — there are no set categories, so the judges, led this year by the choreographer Sam Pinkleton and the set designer Rachel Hauck, can recognize any work they choose. The ceremony, emceed by Cole Escola, was prerecorded and streamed on YouTube; it honored shows that opened between May 1, 2019 and March 12, 2020. The two-hour-long broadcast included a performance of “Our Time” by alumni of several casts of “Merrily We Roll Along.”
Along with Jackson and Arbery, Haruna Lee was granted a playwriting award for the conception and writing of “Suicide Forest,” which had productions at the Bushwick Starr and the Ma-Yi Theater Company.
Among the other winners:
Performance awards were given to Liza Colón-Zayas and Elizabeth Rodriguez for “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven,” Emily Davis for “Is This a Room,” Edmund Donovan for “Greater Clements,” April Matthis for “Toni Stone,” Joe Ngo for “Cambodian Rock Band” and Deirdre O’Connell for “Dana H.”
Sustained excellence awards went to Les Waters for directing, Camille A. Brown for choreography, Arnulfo Maldonado for set design, Jen Schriever for lighting design and Alexandria Wailes as an artist and advocate. The actress Vinie Burrows was recognized for lifetime achievement, and the critic Michael Feingold, a longtime Obies judge, was given a special citation for his service.
The presenters Page 73 and the Tank were singled out for helping to develop artistic careers. The National Black Theater was recognized for sustained excellence in production and advocacy on behalf of Black artists, while the Asian American Performers Action Coalition drew notice for advocacy on equity and inclusion.
Also honored: David Cale for writing and performing “We’re Only Alive For a Short Amount of Time”; Dave Malloy, Or Matias and Hidenori Nakajo for the music and sound of “Octet”; David Neumann and Marcella Murray for creating and performing “Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed”; Tina Satter for conceiving and directing “Is This a Room”; Yu-Hsuan Chen for the set design of “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord”; Mikhail Fiksel for sound design in “Dana H.” and “Cambodian Rock Band”; and Andrea Hood for costume design at the Public Works program.