The Arden Theatre Company production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, directed by Philly playwright James Ijames, was this year’s big winner at Theatre Philadelphia’s Barrymore Awards ceremony Monday night at the Bok in South Philadelphia.
The production took home nine trophies, the most of the night, including outstanding overall production of a play and outstanding direction of a play — along with both of this year’s Barrymore Awards for outstanding supporting performance in a play. (The Barrymore acting categories are gender-neutral. Two performers win, rather than one actor and one actress.)
Jess Conda and Christina “Starfire” May, the evening’s host, moved the awards show along with playful skits and witty banter.
Gem of the Ocean actors Danielle Leneé and Brian Anthony Wilson shared the stage when their supporting performance awards, the evening’s first, were announced.
Leneé gripped the ends of the podium as she took a few moments to gather herself. She said she’d been pondering where she’d display her Barrymore if she won. “There’s a place on my bookshelf in my living room.”
Winners this year took home a newly designed Barrymore trophy — a 9-inch-high rectangular sculpture in a cool, aqua color, designed by Philadelphia artist Sharif Pendleton.
Theatre Horizon’s fiery musical rendition of The Color Purple finished second to Gem of the Ocean for total awards with six awards, including outstanding overall production of a musical. Director Amina Robinson became the first black woman in the Barrymore Awards’ 25-year history to win for outstanding direction of a musical.
Gem of the Ocean and The Color Purple were the only two productions to win multiple awards this year. Arden’s nine Gem awards also made it the night’s biggest winner among theater companies. Theatre Horizon came in second among companies with its six from The Color Purple.
The Barrymore for outstanding leading performance in a play went to Brandi Burgess, for Simpatico Theatre’s Cry It Out, and Justin Jain, for InterAct Theatre Company’s The Great Leap.
Sarah Gliko of Philadelphia Theatre Company’s The Bridges of Madison County and Jessica Johnson of Theatre Horizon’s The Color Purple won the two Barrymores for outstanding leading performance in a musical.
Ebony Pullum of Theatre Horizon’s The Color Purple and Brett Ashley Robinson of Lightning Rod Special’s The Appointment won for outstanding supporting performance in a musical.
Actor/poet/director Jalene Clark Owens was awarded the coveted F. Otto Haas Award for an emerging Philadelphia theater artist. Emily Acker’s Boycott Esther at Azuka Theatre won the Independence Foundation Award for outstanding new work. Playwright and educator Edgar J. Shockley III received a lifetime achievement award.
In a full-circle moment, Brian Anthony Wilson’s supporting performance award for Gem of the Ocean turned out to be the first Barrymore win of his substantial career. He was first nominated at the inaugural Barrymores 25 years ago for his role as Gabriel in Fences, another August Wilson play.
“Tonight is magical,” he said, clutching his award to his chest. “I don’t dream this big. This feels phenomenal."