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Divine decadence, human/animal hybrids, women in drag, tabloid TV, and the Founding Fathers all cleaned up nicely at the Awards Formerly Known as the Jeff Citations on Monday night.
Host Jon Steinhagen addressed the recent name change by running through a list of discarded suggestions, including “Non-Equity Writs,” “Non-Equity Encomiums,” and “Shit on a Shingle” (a reference to the resentment expressed on some theater blogs that putting “Award” and “Non-Equity” in the same phrase tarnishes Equity artists).
Although the Non-Equity Jeff Awards, as they are now called, honor theaters throughout the city and near suburbs, the lion’s share of this year’s awards went to companies based in Rogers Park. On a single street in Rogers Park, at that. Lifeline Theatre snagged five, including Best Production–Play for its staging of The Island of Dr. Moreau; Theo Ubique, which performs just up Glenwood Avenue at the No Exit Cafe, took home four plaques honoring its production of Cabaret; and Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, which splits its productions between the Heartland Studio on Glenwood and the Theatre Building on Belmont, won two. The Side Project, way over on Jarvis, rounded out the Rogers Park juggernaut with one.
Accepting for Best Ensemble, the women of Teatro Luna’s Machos–who played men in Coya Paz’s winner for Best New Work–demonstrated the Hilary Swank Rule: if you’re up for a masculine role, femme out at the awards party.
Signal Ensemble’s 1776 endured
six five losses but finally made it onstage to share the award for Best Production–Musical with Bailiwick Repertory’s Jerry Springer–The Opera. (The Bailiwick folks stayed in character by chanting “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!”)
The speeches were mostly short and pithy, if sometimes melancholy. Honored for her choreography for Bohemian Theatre Ensemble’s The Life, Brenda Didier choked up as she talked about her brother who died of a brain tumor a year ago, and thanked her fellow artists for drinking with her. Jeremy Trager, who won for his performance as the emcee in Theo Ubique’s Cabaret, noted that he’d survived a head-on collision that totaled his car just hours earlier. “It’s been an interesting day,” he deadpanned.
The room grew somber during a tribute to Page Hearn, a longtime Chicago actor who died suddenly last month.
Playwright Sarah Ruhl’s mom, Kathleen (who earned a plaque for her supporting role in Timeline’s Dolly West’s Kitchen), thanked her daughters for helping her remember that she loves acting, and Timeline for helping her celebrate her 65th birthday in the same space where she first performed in 1968. The theater-community-as-family theme always gets a lot of play at the non-Equity Jeffs, but this time it turned literal: the husband-and-wife team of Michael Menendian and JoAnn Montemurro receiving a special award for their 25 years running Raven Theatre. Even technology got some love: Victoria Delorio, one of multiple winners in the incidental music category, gave a shout-out to MacBook Pro.
Though Chicago’s poised to clean up big at the Tony Awards in New York on Sunday night, none of the non-Equity artists felt any obligation to bring that up. No Second City complex allowed. Not last night.