It's Supposed to Be BarryMORE, not BarryLESS

Last night marked our li'l version of the Tony Awards, the 15th annual Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Philadelphia Theatre. I've attended a whole bunch of those ceremonies and watched them grow in scale alongside Philly's theater community. However, it's been a while, maybe a decade even, since I last sat through the awards. Because at $150 a ticket, for a couple who want to leave their kids with a babysitter and have dinner beforehand, well, that's a big Monday night out.

This year, I couldn't take it anymore. Still flushed from the theater love-fest that was this year's Live Arts/Fringe and emboldened by the season's running start, I gave in, ponied up and worked myself into a tight little LBD picked just for the occasion. 

As it turns out, I really only needed 75 cents.

So rushed was the event, so destitute of color or excitement--a means to an end (the after-party) whose end hardly justified the means--I would have been better off waiting to read Howie Shapiro's summary in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Imagine, if you will, several hundred of the city's finest talents assembled in one house. Imagine next, this collection of epic attention whores (I mean that in the fondest sense) forced to rush through a list of names without description or context and a perfunctory series of 45-second thank-yous, no dance numbers, no dramatic scenes. What shows did the F. Otto Haas Emerging Artist nominees work on last season? What exactly did the Delaware Theatre Company do with the Ferris School for Boys (whatever that is) to win their Ted and Stevie Wolf Award for New Approaches to Collaboration? Just read about it in your program, dammit! There's no time for discussion! We've got to get to the pasta bar!

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Imagine now, you're at the pasta bar. Imagine this ballroom after-party with no dj, no band, not even a stinking microphone to enable a round of show tunes karaoke. Pasta and a couple of carving stations are fine, especially with an open wine bar, but then what? I mean, it's not like anyone would want to show off or anything, like they just won an award for THEATER or whatever. I've been to better bar mitzvahs, and I'm including the part where you sit in synagogue and listen to haftorah cantillated by a seventh grader.

Apparently, the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia's Barrymores mantra was "90 minutes." Well guess what? If they kept the bar open or held an intermission, no one would care about the event's length, or if they did, well, at least they'd be getting their money's worth. People might complain that the big song and dance numbers and dramatic scenes are out of context, but without them the whole event is out of context. 

From what I understand, this year marks the first Barrymores without an onstage sampler of  nominated shows. It's also the Theatre Alliance's first year using a grumbled-about new voting system that, among other changes, narrows the field of voters and ranks a show's elements on a scale of 1 to 100. That's a whole other issue, and really, I don't much care about it except that I think critics ought to comprise some part of the voting system. And also that I totally called Ian Merrill Peakes' win for Outstanding Leading Actor in a Play way back when I first reviewed the world premiere of Bruce Graham's Something Intangible. (Yesss!) 

I do, however, care that the Barrymore Awards are lagging behind Philadelphia's theater community at the very moment it's sprinting for the win. Sure, I appreciated Martha Graham Cracker's brief appearance, but I could see her at her cabaret every month for a lot longer, while spending a lot less. The Barrymores are supposed to be the culminating, galvanizing event of the season; here's hoping next year's ceremony makes an effort to match the talent it purports to honor.
October 6, 2009 12:31 PM | | Comments (2)

2 Comments

It does kind of beg the question as to what that $150 is for. Just the room and the pasta bar, really?

Nice job, but after all you do for the theater economy in Philly, I can't believe they didn't comp you. I gave up on the Barrymores long ago -- it's marketing, not arts driven...Merilyn Jackson

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