By Writer Mary Shen Barnidge for the Moulinet Quarterly
THE ELABORATE RE-ENTRANCE OF DAVID WOOLLEY
"The last time I accepted one of these was in 1988," David Woolley confessed to the crowd assembled at the Joseph Jefferson Awards ceremonies before thanking the committee for once again recognizing stage combat as prizeworthy. Even without his status as Chicago theater's granddaddy of violence design, however, Woolley's supervision of the spectacular fight sequences for The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity—a play almost wholly set in a pro wrestling arena—made him a shoo-in for top honors almost before the adjudicators returned from intermission on its opening night.
Aaaaw, but where's the suspense in that? Ever-sensitive to the drama of competition, the voters on the Jeff Committee first decided that Nick Sandys' psychologically-intricate duel in Les Liaisons Dangereuses also merited a nomination. Then, just to escalate the anticipation, they split the outcome further by nominating Sandys not once, but twice, in two acting categories—Outstanding Lead Actor in the aforementioned Liaisons Dangereuses and Outstanding Supporting Actor in Twelfth Night.
So when the lucite was handed out in Oak Brook, Woolley and Sandys were competing, not only against one another, but against circus stunts and video designs in a category designated "Artistic Specialization". Luckily, multiple winners are permitted in this division, so the commercially-generated slides for Lookingglass Theatre's destined-for-television Trust were no obstacle to Chad Deity's racking up another win in a five-out-of-six victory streak by evening's end.
Theatre historians in search of irony may note that the Jeff Committee has distributed more awards for stage combat since 2005 than in the previous thirty-seven years of its existence. But in a field where, by contrast, the American Theatre Wing waited nearly thirty years before seeing fit to acknowledge Broadway's fight-maestro B.H. Barry with a Tony, there is closure in the first combat director to ever take home a Jeff—for "consistent excellency in stage combat"—repeating his triumphal walk only a decade or two later.