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A Quick Turnaround

Does Helen Mirren deserve yet another award?

I believe her acceptance speech, Monday night is worth repeating. She had just received the Distinction in Theater during the 5th Annual Backsage at the Geffen gala. John Lithgow made an emotional, heartfelt presentation to her as he recalled first seeing her on stage when he was a theater student. Mirren said, “There are people who deserve awards. People who jump higher than anyone has ever jumped before, people who save people from burning buildings, any parent with a sick child, and probably all the soldiers serving in Iraq. But me? I don’t. However, here I am accepting this award with great pride, because it is a theater that is offering it to me and the theater is my beginning, my middle and probably will be my end. It was an amateur production of ‘Hamlet’ that opened my eyes to what storytelling could do. I was 14 and I thought it was the most exciting thing I had ever seen. In the theater, stories can be told that we cannot tell anywhere else, and delivered in a form that is unlike any other. Theater can show us the things about ourselves we fear to see and the things we love to see. Theater investigates argument, thought, convention, history; our foibles, our nobility, our crassness, our passions, our hypocrisy. Above all, it challenges and questions the status quo. And hopefully it entertains, too.”

She allowed that “film is a visual medium, glorious and manipulative. It is popular and culturally triumphant. I suspect it is because of my work on film that I am here,for I cannot imagine many of you have seen my workl in the theater, but I am firstly a theater actress. I therefore thank the Geffen for its existence, for giving all those other 14 year-olds of future  generations their glimpse of the inimitabnle power of the theater, and therefore all those future practioners of learning lines and standing around saying them, the chance to reveal endless truths about the nature of human behavior — and thank you for his award,” whereupon she and husband Taylor Hackford (among those on stage who  told “backstage” stories) made a quick exit from the Geffen and headed to the airport where Disney had a plane ready to take her back to continue filming on the location of “National Treasure 2” where, 24 hours earlier, she had been in scenes on Mount Rushmore (a la Eva Marie Saint and Clark Gable in “North by Northwest”?)

The Geffen’s producing director Gil Cates mc’d the evening’s procedings which were co-chaired by  David T.Pence, Pamela Robinson  Hollander and  Fred Specktor. Herb Gelfand received the Distinguised Service Award for his seven years as Chairman of the board of the Geffen Playhouse. Frank Mancuso is incoming chairman. Christine Lahti, among those toasting the evening, performed a teaser of Wendy Wasserstein’s “Third” in which she will star on the Geffen stage Sept.19 – Oct.28.  And Joely Fisher launched the evening with a gusto rendition of “Come To The Cabaret,” with spirited  applause backing. Among  Geffen supporters in the audience, Corky Hale and Mike Stoller. He had once been in talks with Taykir Hackford about a film on the Leiber and Stoller story. But, as we know, Hackford chaneled his musical film efforts to “Ray.” However, Stoller admitted he’d love to have Mirren star in one of his  upcomng B’way musicals.But Hackford told him, “Helen can’t sing one note!” Well, there goes one award.   

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