The "Lawees" honor the best stage work in theaters of 99 seats or less during the previous calendar year, 2011. The awards are selected by a committee consisting mainly of L.A. Weekly theater reviewers.
Under Lauren Ludwig's direction, the company themed the event as the first-ever theater awards in Athens, circa 450 B.C. -- the Lawees being named after "Laweenius -- muse of self-congratulation," as one presenter put it.
This meant that in addition to the performers, more than half the SRO crowd of about 700 came in some faux Greek/Roman garb (historical veracity was not a priority) and/or ornamentation. God of wine and theater, Dionysus, in whose honor the awards were given, sat in a balcony over the audience surrounded by nymphs and maenads, sometimes interrupting the proceedings by urging the audience to chant his name, or urging the company to speed up the action.
During rehearsal Monday afternoon, during a stream of minor tech glitches, one performer quipped, "Why rehearse? What could possibly go wrong?"
The joke on the joke was the seamlessness of the production, thanks in large part to the Ryan Harrison and Frank Smith's script - a stream of satirical quips on theater culture, Greek mythology, Greek drama and the Oscars, complemented by Rich Ramberg, Dylan Ris and Michael Wells' delightful music, performed by the seven-piece band. The other virtues, that prevented what's usually an inevitable audience fallaway as the night goes on, were the pacing, and a balance of erudition and irreverance that teetered precariously close to becoming sophomoric but somehow avoided that plunge.
City Councilman Eric Garcetti showed up to play, handing out two awards, including Comedy Ensemble - something he quipped he was used to when working downtown.
Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon and William J. Norris' musical, Re-Animator The Musical, based on H.P. Lovecraft's story and the movie of it that Gordon directed, won the gladiator's share of six awards (Musical of the Year, Adaptation, Direction of a Musical, Musical Ensemble, Original Music and Blood Effects).
John Pollono's Small Engine Repair - a new play by an L.A. playwright -- grabbed the production-of-the-year, ensemble and playwriting awards, which only added to its recognition at the Ovations and by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle. The play was produced by Rogue Machine, whose artistic director, John Flynn, received this year's Career Achievement award.
The show was dedicated to the memory of Gil Cates, for whom the Geffen Playhouse's artistic direcor Randall Arney gave a lovely tribue - to Cates and to the unsung strength of L.A. theater, that Cates often spoke of.