Two of the most accomplished productions in the history of Chicago theater — "Follies" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and "The Iceman Cometh" at the Goodman Theatre — shared top honors at the Joseph Jefferson Awards, presented Monday night at the packed Drury Lane Theatre. The six Jeffs for "Iceman" (including a best-director Jeff for Robert Falls and a best-supporting actor nod for Brian Dennehy, even though this was a role far bigger than most leads) ended the Goodman's recent drought at the annual awards honoring the best Equity-affiliated Chicago theater.
Dennehy showed up in person to accept his award, and paid tribute to Nathan Lane, his co-star. "Iceman" took home, unsurprisingly, the Jeff for best ensemble. "Follies" also won six Jeff Awards.
"I work at a theater that says Shakespeare on its sign," said Gary Griffin, its Jeff Award-winning director, "but somehow Sondheim has sneaked in there."
Among the highlights of the lively Monday-night ceremony were several full production numbers from Drury Lane Theatre, which always treats the Jeff Awards with great respect, and an especially moving tribute to Chicago theater from Hollis Resnik, who had flown in from Toronto (where she is appearing in the national tour of "Sister Act") to accept her award for her work in "Follies." There also was a lengthy tribute celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Actors' Equity union.
Top acting honors in a play went to Larry Yando for his intoxicating performance as Roy Cohn in the Court Theatre production of "Angels in America" and Diane D'Aquila for her work in the title role of "Elizabeth Rex" at Chicago Shakespeare. Bruce Arntson of the country spoof "Doyle & Debbie" (which had a very good night) got the Jeff for best actor in a musical (something of a surprise in a competitive category), while Caroline O'Connor won a Jeff for her work in the musical "Follies." Arnston said that he was proud that his little show "from a Nashville honky-tonk" had been a part of Chicago's theater scene for eight months.
The two so-called "midsize" productions to score Jeff Awards for productions were the play "The Pitmen Painters" at TimeLine Theatre and "Doyle & Debbie," a commercial venture in the Royal George Theatre's cabaret space. Of the various revues during the past season, "We're All in This Room Together" at the Second City e.t.c. won the big prize. Timothy Edward Kane, widely acclaimed for his work in "An Iliad" at Court Theatre, took home the Jeff for best solo performance.
New works honored included Oren Jacoby's adaptation of "Invisible Man" at Court, Sarah Gubbins' "The Kid Thing" from About Face and Chicago Dramatists, Aaron Thielen and Michael Mahler's "Hero the Musical" at the Marriott Theatre and Ayad Akhtar's "Disgraced" at American Theater Company.
Unusually, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company did not win a single Jeff at this year's ceremony.
2012 Equity Jeff Award winners
Production of a play (large): "The Iceman Cometh" — Goodman Theatre
Production of a play (midsize): "The Pitmen Painters" — TimeLine Theatre Company
Production of a musical (large): "Follies" — Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Production of a musical (midsize): "The Doyle & Debbie Show" — Lonesome Road Productions
Production of a revue: "We're All in This Room Together" — The Second City e.t.c.
Director of a play: Robert Falls — "The Iceman Cometh" — Goodman Theatre
Director of a musical: Gary Griffin — "Follies" — Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Director of a revue: Ryan Bernier — "We're All in This Room Together" — The Second City e.t.c.
Ensemble: "The Iceman Cometh" — Goodman Theatre
Actor in a principal role — play: Larry Yando — "Angels in America" — Court Theatre
Actor in a principal role — musical: Bruce Arntson — "The Doyle & Debbie Show" — Lonesome Road Productions