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Jeffs Recap: Respect the Talent, Respect the Awards

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 8, 2005 8:04PM

As prelude to last night’s Jeff Equity Awards, the Tribune published a love letter to Chicago’s theater community rebutting the notion of its inferiority to New York counterparts. To paraphrase, our stages have more street-level character, our productions ooze talent and substance, and our improv troupes put them to shame. So it’s disappointing that the Trib hasn’t seen fit (as of this writing) to follow up their big wet kiss with any news from last night’s Jeff Awards ceremony, focusing instead on possible favorites for an Oscar race that’s barely begun. Truly bewildering since this year’s Jeffs moved downtown to Drury Lane Water Tower, a higher profile but smaller venue prompting a sold out ceremony and scrambling by some nominated companies to get tickets.

congosmall.gifLast night’s big winner was Congo Square Theatre, picking up Play, Director, and Ensemble awards for August Wilson’s Seven Guitars. You may rightfully suspect that sentimentality over Wilson’s recent passing played a role in the committee’s decisions. But Seven Guitars is among the late playwright’s best work and Congo Square is more than capable of eliciting a fantastic interpretation. To practically no one’s surprise, the bigger houses collected the Acting awards. Jefferson Mays won the Actor award for his gold-standard solo performance in the Goodman’s I Am My Own Wife. Barbara Robertson’s relishing interpretation of Martha in the Court Theatre’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won her the Actress award. Controversy aside, the Steppenwolf’s The Pain and the Itch merited Supporting Actress for Jayne Houdyshell and New Work for writer Bruce Norris, an honor he shared with alt-theater darling Adam Rapp.

In a crowded field, the perennially strong Marriott Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast won Best Musical, Best Director – Musical, and Best Costume Design. Porchlight’s Sweeney Todd completed a near sweep of Musical acting awards, garnering Principal Actor and Actress and Supporting Actor. Sweeney wasn’t represented in the Supporting Actress Category, awarded to The Full Monty’s Renee Matthews.

Chicagoist congratulates all Jeff Award winners and looks forward to seeing enough theater this year to handicap next year’s awards. Visit the Jeff Awards website or the Sun-Times for the full list of award recipients.