- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001

It was the one rare night when all of the Washington areas 83 theaters are dark. Instead of performing or rehearsing, the entire theater community — casts, crews, directors — was gathered at the Kennedy Center awaiting the winners of the Helen Hayes Awards.

"I wouldn´t want to be a judge this year, and I think that´s evidence of the quality of performances," Helen Hayes Awards Chairman Victor Shargai said before the show.

The evening began with a 700-person dinner (duck, salmon and a brownie tart) for nominees and benefactors, in the rooftop South Gallery, where the walls were decorated with each theaters´ projected name.

As the award presentation in the Opera House began, the mistress of ceremonies, "Law and Order" star S. Epatha Merkerson, laid down the law as she pointed to her stop watch. As usual, instructions not to "pull a Julia Roberts" with a long, gushing acceptance speech were ignored for the most part, and the ceremony wore on toward midnight.

Among the winners was Judith Light, who received an outstanding lead actress (nonresident production) award for her performance as an English professor dying of cancer in "Wit." She had traded in her crinkled hospital gown and shaved head for the occasion, of course, and was hardly recognizable in her beige, silk dress and blonde, manelike do.

"It´s warmer to be here with hair," Miss Light said jokingly in her thank-you speech.

One of the last awards was the Helen Hayes Tribute awarded to Philip Bosco, who is known to nationwide audiences for his roles in "My Best Friend´s Wedding" and "Nobody´s Fool." But Mr. Bosco´s Hollywood career only took off after years of stage acting, of which a decade was spent on the Washington theater scene.

"I 10 years in this city, and I see it as my second home," he said, paying tribute to a local theater scene that often suffers by comparison to New York, Chicago and other cities.

After the ceremonies, several thousand guests went upstairs to mix, mingle and network the night away.

Tables were festively decorated with rose and viburnum centerpieces, the bar was open, and food ranged from roast beef and Caesar salad to all-you-can-eat Ben and Jerry´s. The perfect place for perennially "starving" actors to eat enough food to last them a week.

Jeremy Kushnier who was nominated for outstanding lead actor in the Signature Theatre´s production of the musical, "The Rhythm Club," and who performed a portion of it during the award presentation marveled at the abundance.

"It´s a great party. That´s why I come back every year," Mr. Kushnier, said.

Presenter James MacArthur, son of the event´s founder, the legendary Helen Hayes, seemed to agree.

"I missed the cherry blossoms," he said, "but I wouldn´t miss this for anything."

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