Let no one accuse the Boston theater community of being moribund.
By Robert Israel
The Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) awards ceremony, for the past 20 years, is an annual rite of spring (this year it coincided with another highly anticipated spring event: the April 11 home opener of the Boston Red Sox).
Let no one accuse the Boston theater community of being moribund: the IRNE event is a lively, celebratory event that unites thespians, theater crafts folks, costumers and lighting designers, friends, fans and families together with critics (those ink-stained wretches theater people love to malign) to cheer one another on as over two dozen awards are passed out by IRNE committee members (myself among them).
This year’s ceremony took place at the Holiday Inn in Brookline, a departure from the usual Boston Center for the Arts Cyclorama venue. The new location afforded ample opportunity for those attending to repair to side rooms for schmoozing and imbibing, while the large meeting room was reserved for the award ceremony itself. A complete list of award recipients can be found here.
There were many highlights: veteran actor Will Lyman received a well-deserved Best Actor award for his portrayal of King Lear in the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production this past summer on Boston Common. And a young, upcoming Maritza Bostic – who has wowed audiences with her acting and singing chops in productions at Lyric Stage Company and at Wheelock Family Theatre – received the 3rd annual Bob Jolly Award.
But for me, perhaps the most poignant moment came when the IRNE gathering paused to remember the late Barbara Meek, who passed away this past year. I first experienced her diverse wellspring of talent during Trinity Rep performances as a student in Providence in the 1970s. Many years later, as a writer of feature pieces and reviews for (the now defunct) Providence Phoenix, I interviewed Ms. Meek, who I found to be as generous in person as she was on stage. Among many reminiscences, one of the most noteworthy was a description by a fellow actor who was taken by how tirelessly Ms. Meek rehearsed her lines, even moments just before curtain. She never took the rigors of her craft (which was also her métier) for granted.
It is that same pursuit of excellence that the Boston theater community celebrated, with all due exuberance, at the 20th annual IRNE festivities.