The American National Theater won more awards -- five -- than any other last night at the second annual Helen Hayes Awards, but the 13 other trophies were distributed quite evenly among the big and the small of Washington theaters. Arena Stage, which last year won five awards, took three this year, including outstanding resident play for "Execution of Justice."

ANT Artistic Director Peter Sellars was somewhat conspicuous by his absence as other people, including director Jose Quintero, trooped up to the stage to accept awards that he might have taken home. Sellars had objected to the categories in which some of the ANT shows were placed. A spokeswoman said he was attending a long-planned benefit for dancer Meredith Monk in New York, for which he was an honorary cochair.

"Given the outcome, how can we say we're not pleased?" said ANT Executive Director Diane Malecki. "I say that still with reservations about some of the categories."

In an evening studded with stars -- indeed overloaded with them -- Washington theaters celebrated themselves and their art and paid tribute as well to the corporate sponsors whose dollars make much of the theatrical work possible. The ceremony ran an hour over its allotted two-hour and started nearly a half hour late because of all the socializing among the audience. Helen Hayes, for whom the award is named, sounded the ANT/AD1,COPY,SY,ACT,COPY,,,theme of the evening in her welcoming remarks, in which she said she once wondered whether there was enough interest in theater in Washington to make the evening successful. She recalled being in a play with John Drew in 1911, when he told her that the two worst weeks for a theater company were "Holy Week and Washington."

Presenters ranged from Jason Robards -- who also won the award for outstanding led actor in a touring production for his role in "The Iceman Cometh" -- to Vincent Price, to Barbara Cook. all of this year's guests stars shared the distinction of having appeared on stage in Washington, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson were the emcees, and they, along with other award givers, seemed to have trouble reading the cue cards and pronouncing the names of nominees.

One nominee, Leslie Jacobson of Horizons Theatre, was even left out when presenter Quintero read the list of those up for the outstanding director award. That award was won by Douglas C. Wager of Arena Stage for "Execution of Justice," a prize he said at the after-show party was a special "vindication," as he had been hired to direct the (unsuccessful) Broadway production of the play, which is about the trial of Dan White, and had been replaced by playwright Emily Mann.

Even humorist Art Buchwald joined the festivities, admissible because he is the author of a play, "Sheep on the Runway," which, he contended, would still be running "if it wasn't for Dick Coe." Coe, who was The Washington Post's drama critic when the play opened in 1970, is the chairman of the Washington Theatre Awards Society, which runs the "Helens," and wrote the script for last night's ceremony.

It was a night for socializing as well as for winning or losing. After the show it seemed as though all 1,700 audience members were lined up to get into the National Press Club around the corner, straining the four elevators beyond capacity. The line of people in evening finery stretched around the block, and when the hungry partygoers finally reached their destination they found yet more lines of people waiting for food. But there was dancing, a huge ice sculpture and celebrities to wait for pate with.

The Studio Theatre, one of the city's smaller houses, won three awards: outstanding resident musical (for "March of the Falsettos"), outstanding set design (Russell Metheny for "A Walk Out of Water") and outstanding supporting actress (Erika Bogren for "A Walk Out of Water." Studio director Joy Zinoman, who directed "March of the Falsettos," a show about a family man who falls in love with another man, said the show was "the only musical I was ever interested in directing."

Thomas Schall, who won the award for outstanding led actor in a resident production for "Fool for Love," seemed genuinely unprepared. "It never fails," he said. "You don't do your homework and they call on you . . . I share this with all of you," he continued. "But I'm going to keep it." Randy Danson won the lead actress award for playing "The Good Person of Setzuan" at Arena Stage.

Ralph Hunt won the outstanding new play award for his version of "Metamorphosis," produced by the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Hunt seemed the most befuddled of the winners, but did not fail to thank Franz Kafka, "from whom I stole the idea for this play."

Romaine Fruge (the presenters really balked at his name) won the award for lead actor in a resident musical for "Baby" at Olney Theatre, and Janet Aldrich of "Forbidden Broadway" won the lead actress in a resident musical prize for her send-ups of Patti LuPone, Carol Channing and other stars. Aldrich had a chance to display her talents in an excerpt from the show that was performed during the ceremony.

It was a night for socializing as well as for winning or losing. After the show it seemed as though all 1,700 audience members were line dup to get into the National Press Club around the corner, straining the four elevators beyond capacity. The line of people in evening finery stretched around the block, and when the hungry partygoers finally reached their destination they found yet more lines of people waiting for food. But there was dancing, a huge ice sculpture and celebrities to wait for pate with.

The Studio Theatre, one of the city's smaller houses, won three awards: outstanding resident musical (for "March of the Falsettos"), outstanding set design (Russell Metheny for "A Walk Out of Water") and outstanding supporting actress (Erika Bogren for "A Walk Out of Water." Studio director Joy Zinoman, who directed "March of the Falsettos," a show about a family man who falls in love with another man, said the show was "the only musical I was ever interested in directing."

Thomas Schall, who won the award for outstanding led actor in a resident production for "Fool for Love," seemed genuinely unprepared. "It never fails," he said. "You don't do your homework and they call on you . . . I share this with all of you," he continued. "But I'm going to keep it." Randy Danson won the lead actress award for playing "The Good Person of Setzuan" at Arena Stage.

Ralph Hunt won the outstanding new play award for his version of "Metamorphosis," produced by the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Hunt seemed the most befuddled of the winners, but did not fail to thank Franz Kafka, "from whom I stole the idea for this play."

Romain Fruge (the presenters really balked at his name) won the award for lead actor in a resident musical for "Baby" at Olney Theatre, and Janet Aldrich of "Forbidden Broadway" won the lead actress in a resident musical prize for her send-ups of Patti LuPone, Carol Channing and others stars. Aldrich had a chance to display her talents in an excerpt from the show that ws performed during the ceremony.

Special awards were presented in honor of the late Rev. Gilbert Hartke of Catholic University and "Washington's sol Hurok," Patrick Hayes, who received a citation from the Washington Post Co. for distinguished community service. Another special award, a $2,000 grant donated by radio personality Bob Davis and real estate man Henry J. Schalizki, was given to Howard University student Bryon Stewart.

Holly Cole won the costume award for "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger, and James F. Ingalls won for his lighting design for "The Count of Monte Cristo" at the American National Theater. The outstanding supporting actor in a resident production was Patrick Richwood in "The Foreigner" at Olney, and the outstanding supporting performer in a touring production was Barnard Huges in "The Iceman Cometh." Robards accepted the award for his colleague Hughes, thanking the playwright, the director and "of course me for helping him."

Another absent performer, Barbara Robertson of Chicago's Wisdom Bridge Theatre, was the outstanding led actress in a touring production for "Kabuki Medea," a part for which she also won a Joseph Jefferson award in her home town. In accepting his prize for lead actor in a touring production, the much honored Robards said he had never before won an award for a role in an Eugene O'Neill play, and he has been in five of them.

"La Cage aux Folles" took the outstanding touring production award, and was represented on stage by actor Keene Curtis, who performed his show stopper, "I Am What I Am." Other performers included such diverse artists as singer Barbara Cook and storyteller-banjo player Stephen Wade.

Arena Stage Producing Director Zelda Fichandler, accepting the award for outstanding resident production, noted that "the theater is an iceberg and a production is one of the tips. The theater is a vast subconscious and a production one of its thoughts. A theater is a siege and a production one of its battles . . ." Her thanks were to the "Arena Stage Family" that made "Execution of Justice" possible.

The award committee noted that the prizes were called "outstanding" rather than "best," a distinction they felt minimized competition. A panel fo judges, headed by Coe, selected the winners from a pool of nominees chosen by a larger group of "nominators" who saw 155 plays in 26 local theaters.

A sentimental high point came early in the evening when Hayes shared the stage with Vince Price, who had appeared with her in "Victoria Regina." He played Prince Albert. The two reminisced gracefully, and at the end returned with glasses of champagne to toast the crowd.