The audience that was gathered at the Gershwin Theatre for the 38th annual Antoinette Perry Awards gave Dustin Hoffman a standing ovation. And why not? It was their chance to salute the artist the Tony nominators overlooked (along with several others) in an omission that qualified for this year's Tony scandal. Last year, the committee neglected to nominate Neil Simon's ''Brighton Beach Memoirs.''
Mr. Hoffman was a winner by acclamation. But his role on June 3 was to present an award - the Tony for the season's best play to British Tom Stoppard for ''The Real Thing.'' Like the superb professional he is, Mr. Hoffman played it cool. He walked to the microphone, announced, ''I'm here for the 'Salesman' company,'' made the presentation, and disappeared into the wings.
By appearing at all - a graceful and magnanimous gesture - Mr. Hoffman provided this year's Tony drama with its coup de theatre. While the excitements of the evening didn't end there, the Hoffman high was never again equaled.
Yet along with the prize-giving (including six for the musical ''La Cage aux Folles'' and five for ''The Real Thing''), there were those moments of truth and personal feeling that impart the touches of humanity that hearten the glitz and glamour of this TV song-and-dance spectacle. For instance:
There was Al Hirschfeld, the noted ''characterist,'' receiving the first Brooks Atkinson Award, thanking the train of players who have been his unpaid models and paying tribute do his New York Times friend and colleague of so many years. (Blowups of Hirschfeld drawings enlivened the settings for theTony show.)
Also, Chita Rivera, a several-times nominee but now a winner for her performance in ''The Rink,'' dedicating her Tony to her mother, who passed on before the show opened. Miss Rivera won the second biggest ovation of the evening.
George Hearn, voted outstanding actor in a musical for his performance as the homosexual transvestite in ''Cage,'' observing that the Tonys should really be called the Antoinettes, having been named after Antoinette Perry.
Glenn Close, confessing that by winning the award for best performance by an actress in a play, she had lost a $50 bet.
Jeremy Irons, winner of the Tony for best actor in a play, paying tribute to his peers - ''nominated and unnominated.''
Joseph Papp, pretending almost to drop the first 14-carat gold Tony - a special award to ''A Chorus Line'' for having become the longest-running show in Broadway history.
And there was Jerry Herman, citing his award for the ''Cage'' score as proof that the ''simple, hummable show tune . . . is alive and well at the Palace.''
Mr. Herman was one of four composers and lyricists honored by producer Alexander H. Cohen and writer Hildy Parks in their 1984 extravaganza. There were also medleys and snippets from the creations of Kander and Ebb, currently represented by ''The Rink,'' and Stephen Sondheim, composer-lyricist of ''Sunday in the Park with George.''
The Tonys apart, the 1984 awards season has passed without noticeable furor. To nobody's great surprise, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama went to ''Glengarry Glen Ross,'' David Mamet's mordant comedy about predatory Chicago real estate agents.
In contrast to its fractious 1983 behavior, the New York Drama Critics' Circle was a model of decorum in voting for its 1984 prizes. The critics chose ''The Real Thing'' as best play, ''Glengarry Glen Ross'' as best American play, and the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine ''Sunday in the Park with George'' as best musical. Prompted by the two evenings of Beckett works presented last season, the circle voted a special citation to Samuel Beckett for the body of his work.
The value of awards - artistically or commercially - is debatable and certainly unpredictable. Over the years, they have become as de rigueur as opening-night ovations, which often have nothing to do with the fate of a production. Now a new season has begun and the process starts all over again!