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Awards named for actress honor

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The Atlanta theater community turned out in sequins and tuxedos for the first Suzi Bass Awards. Sunday night's ceremony at the 14th Street Playhouse was short but sweet --- just four artistic trophies --- but organizers of the city's first professional theater honors promise a full roster of 20 awards next year.

"The Color Purple," which originated at the Alliance Theatre last fall and opens Dec. 1 on Broadway, won the Suzi for outstanding production of the 2004-05 season.

The awards --- a brushed silver trophy topped with a star --- are named for the late Suzi Bass, a one-of-a-kind actress who died of cancer in 2002 after capturing the hearts of fans and colleagues.

Actress Karen Howell, who had been asked to give a talk about "what Suzi would think," was stunned to win the 2005 Spirit of Suzi Bass Award. An indefatigable trouper who's the local liaison for the Actors' Equity union, Howell said her work is "minimal" compared to others in the community.

After her remarks, she had to be pulled back onstage to give the tribute she'd originally planned for her best friend. She said she envisioned Bass reared back in a chair, wearing a purple boa and saying, "I'm so glad I didn't have to pick the winners."

Bass' husband, Bob Bass, was given a special Spirit of Suzi Bass Award.

Bernardine Mitchell won outstanding actress for portraying the lead in Theatre in the Square's "Mahalia," and Carol Mitchell-Leon won the directing trophy for the same show.

Mitchell-Leon accepted on behalf of Mitchell, who is working in Canada. "I know how much she loved Suzi and that this would be a real honor for her," said the director.

Picking up his outstanding actor Suzi for his role in Theatre in the Square's "The Diviners," Chris Ekholm made a pitch for Actors' Equity and the theaters that employ Equity members. "Without that, we can't make a living doing this," he said.

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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