Akalaitis gets Obie respect

JoAnne Akalaitis, ousted earlier this spring from her post as artistic director of the New York Shakespeare Festival, took the top honor at the 38th annual Village Voice Obie Awards on Monday night, delivering an emotional speech to a celebratory crowd at the Palladium dance club.

“I didn’t heal myself,” Akalaitis said. “Art heals!”

She was referring to the outpouring of support she received from the theater community when the Festival board fired her after 20 months as artistic successor to founder Joseph Papp.

Akalaitis received her Obie for Sustained Achievement, the most prestigious Obie. Waving the $ 1,000 check that accompanied her award, she added that she would donate the prize to ACT-UP, the organization of AIDS activists founded by playwright Larry Kramer.

Kramer, too, was an Obie winner, one of four playwrights whose scripts were honored with awards and $ 1,000 checks.

In addition to Kramer, who received his award for “The Destiny of Me,” the playwrights cited were Harry Kondoleon for “The Houseguests,” Jose Rivera for “Marisol” and Paul Rudnick for “Jeffrey.”

The Obies, sponsored by the Village Voice, are organized non-competitively to honor achievements Off- and Off-Off-Broadway, with no set number of recipients in each category.

This year’s awards were hosted by Nathan Lane, a winner last year who recently left the Broadway cast of “Guys and Dolls,” and Ann Magnuson, a performance artist who played the oddball magazine editor on the ABC sitcom “Anything But Love.”

Award presenters included married actors Dennis Boutsikaris and Deborah Hedwall, who recently returned East following his stint as a star of ABC’s “The Jackie Thomas Show”; playwrights Athol Fugard and Eric Overmyer; Lynne Meadow, artistic director of the Manhattan Theater Club; and John Spencer, from “L.A. Law.” Entertainment was provided by performance artists Marga Gomez and John Kelly and actor Jeff Weiss.

Obies for Sustained Excellence were given to two actors — Miriam Colon and Ellen Parker — and two designers — set designer Loy Arcenas and lighting designer Howard Thies. In addition, the following actors received Obies: Jane Alexander and Robert Klein for “The Sisters Rosensweig,” Frances Conroy for “The Last Yankee,” David Drake for “The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me,” Geoffrey C. Ewing for “Ali,” Hallie Foote for “The Roads to Home,” Edward Hibbert for “Jeffrey,” Bill Irwin for “Texts for Nothing,” John Cameron Mitchell for “The Destiny of Me” and Linda Stephens for “Wings.”

“Wings,” a musical version of the Arthur Kopit play produced by the Goodman Theater of Chicago and presented in New York at the Shakespeare Festival, also won an Obie for director Michael Maggio. Two other directors won Obies: Christopher Ashley for “Jeffrey” and Frederick Zollo for “Aven’U Boys.”

Special citations were awarded to Cirque du Soleil; Betty Corwin, founder of the film and video archive at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center; the Ensemble Studio Theater’s Annual One-Act Play Marathon; the International Festival of Puppet Theater; Lincoln Center’s “Serious Fun” festival; and Ariane Mnouchkine for her company, Theatre du Soleil , and its performances of “Les Atrides.”

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe and the Pearl Theater Co. were awarded development grants of $ 5,000 each.

The Obie judges were Voice theater editor Ross Wetzsteon; Voice critics Michael Feingold and Alisa Solomon; and two guest judges: actress Mary Alice and Variety chief theater critic Jeremy Gerard.