Theater News: IRNE Awards @ 22 — The Theater Bug, Renewed

But, amidst all this excitement, there was an undertow of concern in the crowd at this year’s IRNE Awards.

Mary Flynn (Eden Espinosa), Frank (Mark Umbers), and Charley Kringas (Damian Humbley) in the Huntington Theatre Company production of “Merrily We Roll Along.” Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

By Robert Israel

Standing on the dais at the Holiday Inn for the 22nd annual Independent Reviewers of New England awards ceremony on Monday night, I surveyed a boisterous crowd of publicists, actors, set and lighting designers, directors and administrators, a diverse sampling that makes up the burgeoning Boston theater community. This lively group didn’t need the booze, available from two well-stocked bars, to fuel their enthusiasm, but they guzzled it anyway. There was an organic, infectious excitement to the event, the annual return of members of the theater community to Brookline each spring  to learn – from myself and the other judges – who has been chosen as the best.

But, amidst all this excitement, there was an undertow of concern in the crowd. Many were dressed in black garb out of solidarity for the victims of sexual abuse championed by the #MeToo Movement, one of the most recent exposures in the Boston arts community being the outing (in the NYTimes) of sexual predator Israel Horovitz at the Gloucester Stage Company.

This exposure hit home to the IRNE committee, too. An IRNE judge, Al Chase, who resigned two weeks before the event, was publicly exposed by Evan Gambardella, an actor now living in New York, who chronicled his abuse by Chase in a Facebook posting. To IRNE’s credit, a statement was issued condemning Chase’s behavior and urging Boston-area theaters to bar him from reviewing future productions. At the event, a representative from StageSource in Boston was on hand to direct those who may have experienced sexual harassment toward resources – including counseling at the Boston Rape Crisis Center.

Speaking for my fellow IRNE judges, Mike Hoban declared that “we support the brave action of Evan Gambardella in coming forward and sharing his trauma in order to shine a light on inappropriate and predatory behavior and the horrific consequences for its victims.”

This vital point made, let’s turn to the winners — the complete list is available here. Highlights included the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Merrily We Roll Along, which took home seven awards, including Best Musical in the Large Stage category, and SpeakEasy Stage’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, which earned five Small Stage (including Best Play) honors. Speakeasy’s Bridges of Madison County earned four wins in the Small Stage – Musical category while Merrimack Rep’s The Royale also won three awards for Large Stage, including Best Play.

There were also heartfelt tributes to the late actors Larry Coen and Thomas Derrah and a special recognition of achievement to Robert Eagle (who battled another alleged sexual predator last year).

For this particular IRNE judge (who has been reviewing theater for decades), the awards ceremony affords an opportunity to meet, greet, and thank many of the theater people in the Boston community who, like myself, are firmly enamored of the stage. While chatting with Trinity Rep’s Phyllis Kay we both realized that, as youngsters, we were “bit” by the theater bug while attending Project Discovery productions in Rhode Island. May that bug continue to thrive throughout New England.

Robert Israel writes about theater, travel, and the arts, and is a member of Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE). He can be reached at

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  1. Bill Marx on April 24, 2018 at 4:27 pm

    Good to see IRNE react so promptly to Evan Gambardella’s detailed accusations about one of its members, critic Al Chase, who withdrew from the organization. Will Boston’s Elliot Norton Awards acknowledge the news (reported in the New York Times in November of last year) of Israel Horovitz’s decades of sexual harassment and abuse? He won the Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence in 1986. Shouldn’t that honor be rescinded, given the harm he has done to the theater community? No mention of the issue in the PR for the upcoming ceremony.

    • Robert Israel on April 26, 2018 at 8:43 am

      Out of curiosity sparked by your comment/suggestion that the Norties rescind the honor given to Mr. Horovitz (which I endorse), I found this piece from NY Mag about Bill Cosby:

      The list hasn’t been updated (from what I could find), but since it was published, Penn has rescinded its honorary degree to predator Cosby, and his brother in predation, Steve Wynn, casino magnate, has also had several of his honorary degrees rescinded.

      Some colleges/universities/ organizations rescind, whilst others do not (G. Washington U. does not rescind, for example).

      It’d be interesting to see what action, if any, the Norties takes when the award ceremony takes place next month.

  2. Michael J. Curtiss on July 27, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    Al Chase must be made to answer not just for the crimes he committed against Evan and anyone else who came under his influence, but also the children he abused while working with the Bethany Church in Rye, NH, and any other organization with which he was affiliated in New England before sleazing off to Boston to target a whole new demographic of victim. This monster has been allowed to walk free and steal the lives of far too many, and he must be stopped.

    • Lauren on August 22, 2021 at 10:06 am

      Hello Michael, I would like to have a conversation with you about your knowledge of the abuse of children while Al Chase was a minister at Bethany Church in Rye NH.

  3. […] from the grand to the minuscule. The judges encourage dialogue, and we take action on issues. At the 22nd IRNE ceremony, a former IRNE critic was asked to resign amidst allegations he had sexually violated a young male […]

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