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Kevin Spacey and a Host of Local Politicians Attend the Helen Hayes Awards (Photos)

Signature Theatre and Synetic Theater won big at Monday night’s annual theater event.

TheatreWashington’s Victor Shargai and Linda Levy Grossman greet actor and director Kevin Spacey at the Helen Hayes Awards. Photograph by Kevin Allen.

“I know what you’re thinking,” said
Chris Matthews as he took the stage at the Warner Theatre last night. “Why’s he here?”

It was an apt question, given that the roster of
presenters at last night’s Helen Hayes Awards skewed heavily toward the
In addition to Matthews, awards were doled out by Congresswoman

Eleanor Holmes Norton, Representative
Jim Moran from Virginia’s eighth district, and DC Councilman
Jack Evans, as well as NPR’s legal correspondent,
Nina Totenberg. Luckily, the evening was given some showbiz glamor by the presence of Academy Award-winning actor and director
Kevin Spacey, recipient of the Helen Hayes Tribute for his contributions to theater. But even that wasn’t without its political edge:
Before Spacey took the stage, he was lauded in a video message by none other than
Bill Clinton.

Spacey responded by entreating the crew to turn up the
house lights so he could see the audience, before launching into his
best Bubba impression. In his acceptance speech, Spacey praised
Helen Hayes herself for her philanthropy and love of theater,
and recalled asking Jack Lemmon to provide him with references
when he needed to rent an apartment in New York. “He said,
‘As far as I know him, he’s a terrific young man, and the only
thing he’s ever stolen is my scenes,'” Spacey said.

With all the famous names onstage, the awards themselves seemed almost like an afterthought, but the big winners of the night
were Signature Theatre, which scooped up five awards including Outstanding Resident Musical for its production of
Hairspray; and Synetic Theater, which took home four for its wordless
King Lear. Outstanding Resident Play went to Arena Stage’s production of
Ruined, an adaptation of the heartbreaking Pulitzer-winning drama by Lynn Nottage.

The show was hosted by local actresses
Holly Twyford and
Felicia Curry, who incorporated countless
costume changes and in-jokes into their skits, including a poke at both
their roles in children’s
productions. There were a few (albeit not particularly
surprising) disappointments: Neither Cate Blanchett nor Hugo Weaving
were present to collect their Outstanding Actress and Actor
awards for the Kennedy Center’s production of
Uncle Vanya, but
Jenny Jules, a Brit, showed up to help collect the show’s award for best play.
Euan Morton, a Tony nominee for his role in
Taboo, graciously accepted his award for Outstanding Leading Actor in a Musical for Theater J and Ford’s Theatre’s co-production
Parade. “When I came to Washington, Victor Shargai gave me some advice,” the actor said of the TheatreWashington board chair. “He
said, ‘Sleep with me, and you’ll get a Helen Hayes Award.’ And I did.”

Smaller companies did better than usual this year, picking up a number of awards. The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding
New Play or Musical went to
Marc Acito for Hub Theatre’s production of
Birds of a Feather, while
Kendra Rai received an award for her vivid costumes in Constellation Theatre’s
The Green Bird. The Outstanding Leading Actress award for a resident play was shared between Studio Theatre’s
Erica Sullivan (Venus in Fur) and Bay Theatre Company’s
Rena Brown, for
Wit. The John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company went to Faction of Fools, a commedia dell’arte company.

Will this year’s ceremony quell the debate over how
nominations and awards are decided? Probably not. But it succeeded in
feting local companies, crews, and performers in an elaborate
event, culminating in a celebration at the Marriott down the
street. So if nothing else, at least we’ll have something to
talk about until next year’s nominations.

For a full list of the Helen Hayes Award winners and
nominees, visit TheatreWashington’s website.
To read our reviews of the award-winning plays, visit the After
Hours Blog theater