And the Kevin Goes To...

Coming soon to a theater near you: The first annual Kevin Kline Awards

The Kevin Kline Awards

The Roberts Orpheum Theatre, 416 N. Ninth St.

Presented Monday, March 20, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $100 to $150. Call 314-276-8165 or visit www.kevinklineawa

Now that the Academy Awards finally Crash-landed, we can turn our full attention to the true North Star of the current awards season, the first annual Kevin Kline Awards, to be bestowed on March 20. With Kline making his first public appearance here in several years and charismatic Broadway star Jason Danieley as host, the evening has the makings of a gala celebration.

Alas, the Kline nominations have not generated any of the crass campaigning that has devolved the Oscars into such a sorry spectacle. (It would have been fun to see Kline nominees standing outside the bay window on Show Me St. Louis holding up handmade VOTE FOR ME! signs.)

Nominations can be illuminating. When we agree with them, they confirm our sagacity. How telling, for instance, that the Muny only received one of twenty-one nominations for technical achievement. When St. Louis' largest theater operation is shut out of the categories for lighting, costume and set design and can only eke out one measly nomination for sound, the dismal showing seems to confirm what you've read in this space for years: The technical side of the Muny needs to be addressed.

On the other hand, when we disagree with nominations, we tend to dismiss them as the ramblings of idiots. Many a show panned by RFT critics has been recognized. Well, why not? You have to fill out the categories with something.

Which brings us to some serious concerns about the Kline Awards. For instance, Outstanding New Play or Musical garnered only three nominees. Should a category be included if you can't fill it? (Each category was to have yielded five finalists.) Executive director Steve Isom hopes the opportunity to garner a trophy in this admittedly thin category will encourage the production of new plays. But the ambition to win an award is the worst possible reason to embark on any artistic venture. Awards, if they come at all, come later, almost incidentally; they should never be a catalyst.

Further thought also needs to be given to the ensemble categories. The decision to exclude two-character plays like the Rep's Stones in His Pockets seems to fly in the face of what ensemble acting is. As for musicals, does anyone really believe Man of La Mancha and Hello, Dolly! are ensemble shows? They're star vehicles. This category needs clearer definition.

No list of nominees would be complete without key omissions. Arnie Burton's chilling pedophile in the Rep Studio production of Frozen and William Metzo's commanding Prospero in the Shakespeare Festival's Tempest were two of the outstanding performances of 2005. The fact that neither actor was nominated does not lessen the measure of the work.

Nor should we read anything into the fact that both excluded actors aren't part of the local theater community. Since the nominations were announced, "us vs. them" mutterings have surfaced: "Isn't it great how many local actors were nominated rather than guest artists passing through town?" This is the most myopic and destructive possible view. There's nothing in the charter to suggest that the Kevin Kline Awards were created to boost parochial chest-thumping.

Every time I hear someone complain about a guest artist taking a job away from a local actor, I cringe — just as I cringe if that same guest artist delivers a lackluster performance that might have been played just as well by someone who lives in town. This conundrum will never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction, but the most constructive solution is to bring in more Burtons and Metzos, not fewer; audiences and peers alike can only grow from being in the presence of true talent.

Which actors should go home with awards next week? It doesn't really matter, so long as they're doled out in a spirit of collegiality rather than competition.

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