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Small Is Beautiful to Drama Critics

Theater: South Coast Repertory wins two awards each for 'Taming of the Shrew' and 'Collected Stories' from Los Angeles reviewers.

March 19, 1997|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

STUDIO CITY — "Eleemosynary" and "Great Expectations," two sub-100-seat productions, nabbed the most awards for single shows--four each--in the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards, announced Monday evening in Studio City.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles' biggest theater company, the Center Theatre Group, won eight awards--twice as many as any other producer. Three--including two for "Blade to the Heat"--were for productions at the Mark Taper Forum; five were for productions imported into the Ahmanson Theatre.

South Coast Repertory won four awards--two for "The Taming of the Shrew" and two for "Collected Stories." Donald Margulies, who wrote "Collected Stories," accepted the previously announced Ted Schmitt Award for outstanding new play.

The awards ceremony was highlighted by tributes to Jack Lemmon, a lifetime achievement award winner, that included two inadvertently comic scenes worthy of a script starring Lemmon.

*

Early in the evening, as Betsy Palmer was about to deliver glowing words of praise to Lemmon, emcee Lynn Redgrave announced that a car was blocking someone's exit in the Sportsmen's Lodge parking lot--and it turned out to be Lemmon's Bentley. He scurried out to move his car, while Palmer went on with her tribute. A few minutes later, Lemmon returned and told the crowd that he had moved his car but "now a '57 Chevy is blocking me."

Later, the audience roared with laughter as Critics Circle member Michael Frym--standing in for absent City Councilman Joel Wachs--read a remarkably long and excessively ornate proclamation that the City Council had sent in honor of Lemmon. Among its many solemn "whereas" clauses was such minutiae as a comparison of a gesture that Lemmon made in the movie "Mister Roberts" to one made by an ape in "2001: A Space Odyssey." The praise was so fulsome that at one point Frym ad-libbed that Lemmon also "leaps tall buildings in a single bound."

When Lemmon finally spoke, near the end of the evening, he began his remarks with "whereas." He went on to observe that actors often want "to kill all the critics, but the moment they get a good review--boy, does that all disappear." He said that criticisms he had received in print had aided him in later performances, and he also thanked critics for spreading the word about small productions lacking lavish promotional budgets.

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Among the awards for West Coast Ensemble's "Eleemosynary" and A Noise Within's "Great Expectations" were two of the three honors for outstanding production. The third went to Blank Theatre Company's "Breaking the Code."

Actors Co-op, which accepted the Margaret Harford Award for continued achievement in smaller theater, also picked up two competitive awards for its recent revival of "She Loves Me."

The winners:

* Production: "Breaking the Code," Blank Theatre Company; "Eleemosynary," West Coast Ensemble; "Great Expectations," A Noise Within

* Direction: Peter Grego, "Eleemosynary"; Mark Rucker, "The Taming of the Shrew"

* Writing: Lee Blessing, "Eleemosynary"; Donald Margulies, "Collected Stories"

* Writing/Adaptation: Barbara Field, "Great Expectations"

* Lead Performance: Meredith Bishop, "Eleemosynary"; Kandis Chappell, "Collected Stories"; Dennis Christopher, "Breaking the Code"; Cherry Jones, "The Heiress"; Donald Sage Mackay, "Great Expectations"; Julia Sweeney, "God Said, Ha!"

* Featured Performance: Ellia English, "Dinah Was"; Tom Hillmann, "She Loves Me"; Deborah Strang, "Great Expectations"; Tamara Zook, "Homefires"

* Ensemble Performance: The cast of "Mad Forest"

* Scenic Design: John Arnone, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"; Yael Pardess, "Blade to the Heat"

* Lighting Design: Rick Fisher, "An Inspector Calls"

* Costume Design: Jane Greenwood, "The Heiress"; Martin Pakledinaz, "Changes of Heart"; Shigeru Yaji, "The Taming of the Shrew"

* Sound Design: Jon Gottlieb, "Blade to the Heat"

* Musical Direction: Kevin Farrell, "Carousel"; Perry Hart, "The All Night Strut"

* Choreography: Sir Kenneth Macmillan, "Carousel"; Chris Salmon, "She Loves Me"

Special Awards

* Lifetime Achievement Award: Jack Lemmon

* Ted Schmitt Award: Donald Margulies, "Collected Stories"

* Margaret Harford Award: Actors Co-op

* Angstrom Lighting Award: Martin Aronstein

* Natalie Schafer Award: Laurel Green

* Bob Z Award: Deborah Raymond and Dorian Vernacchio

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