The clear winners at the awards night gala for the 17th Pittsburgh New Works Festival, held Sunday at Riverwatch, were Chris Gavaler's play, "The Chris & Alex Show"; Barbara Russell, an appreciative and entertaining recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award; and Gorman Lowe, the emcee, who kept the audience chortling continually.
But in the informal category of Best Gown -- people dress up for what calls itself "Pittsburgh's best theater party" -- the usual winner, festival founder Donna Rae, had to settle for a tie with festival sparkplug Zilda Alvez.
Rae won the drinks competition, however: the special of the night was a fruity-neo-martini-like concoction, complete with a floating eyeball (actually a ping pong ball), called "Terminal Stare" in honor of her character on the old "Chiller Theater."
Gavaler's play, a smartly convoluted mediation on gender and role playing, won the three main Donnas (production, playwright and direction). The four acting awards went to four more of the 15 one-act plays in the festival.
Musical funnyman Lowe made his entrance as a lumpy Lenora Nemetz, then scored especially with a comic story-theater biography of Russell, assisted by Laura Yoerg and keyboardist David Pressau. Making the presentation to Russell was Leslie Brockett Wohlfarth, widow of Don Brockett, with whom Russell teamed for 35 years as Brockett and Barbara.
The Shirley Custer Award scholarship went to Jake DeGroot, a lighting design major at CMU.
Among those attending were previous Lifetime Achievement Award winners Bill Thunhurst, Vernell Lillie, Don DiFonso, Richard Rauh and Jay Keenan.
Winners and Runners Up
Production: "The Chris & Alex Show (Cup-A-Jo Productions). Runners up: "Life Without Nipples" (Theatre Factory) and "Like Family" (Thank You, Felix).
Direction: Joanna Lowe, "Chris & Alex Show." Runners up: Scott P. Calhoon, "Life Without Nipples," and Todd Betker, "Like Family."
Playwright: Chris Gavaler, "Chris & Alex Show." Runners up: Stuart Clark, "The Common Man" (Summer Company) and Glenn Alterman, "Like Family."
Lead Actress: Nikki McCrea, "Life Without Nipples" (Theatre Factory). Runners up: Kelly Marie McKenna, "Blood Drive" (mimeradio), and Joyce Miller, "The Spiral Staircase" (Heritage Players).
Lead Actor: Marc Stern, "The Common Man" (Summer Company). Runners up: Dan Krack, "Andy, Tell Me Tru" (CCAC South Campus) and Greg Caridi, "Not Another Divine Comedy" (Open Stage).
Supporting Actress: Patricia Samreny, "Claire's Departure" (McKeesport Little Theater). Runners up: Lauren Tassi, "Chris & Alex Show," and Louise Fox "The Audition" (Gemini Theater).
Supporting Actor: Tony Randza, "Couples Therapy" (Proudly Presents). Runners up: Thomas Sterner, "Chris & Alex Show," and Trent Wolford, "The Audition."
NWF Lifetime Achievement Award Winners
1991: Will Disney
1992: Bingo O'Malley
1993: Marc Masterson
1994: Ted Hoover
1995: Shirley Custer
1996: Don Brockett
1997: Vernell A. Lillie
1998: Don DiFonso
1999: Margo Lovelace
2000: Charles Gray
2001: Pat Van Eman
2002: Bill Thunhurst
2003: Bill Mendlow
2004: Jay Keenan
2005: Richard E. Rauh
2006: Ruth Willis
2007: Barbara Russell
For information about Pittsburgh New Works Festival, including how and when to submit plays for 2008, call 412-881-6888 or visit www.pittsburghnewworks.org.
Post-Gazette theater editor Christopher Rawson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1666.