Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dan Talks Tonys

Editor's note: Theasy writer Dan Dinero sees everything on Broadway. So he is pretty informed when it comes to the Tony Awards. Theasy is excited to bring you a three-part series of Dan's insight into the 2008-2009 Broadway season. Here is the first installment!

Part 1- The Plays

I’ve seen every play that has been nominated for a Tony this year. It has been an especially good year for play revivals, and a mediocre one for new plays. And the Tony nominating committee seems to agree: of the 48 nominations reserved for plays (across all categories), new plays earned 16 nominations, while play revivals earned 32. Of course, it’s also worth noting that 8 new plays opened this season, in comparison to the 16 revivals (1 of which- American Buffalo- didn’t run long enough to be Tony-eligible). But that said, I was still underwhelmed by the quality of new plays on Broadway this year. My favorite play of the year was Horton Foote’s Dividing the Estate, which closed in January, making it incredibly unlikely that it will win the Tony for Best Play. So what will win? Here are my guesses, and my thoughts behind them…


If Dividing the Estate was still running, I think it might be a stiffer competition, but I’m betting God of Carnage will win here. Quite honestly, of the four nominated plays, I liked God of Carnage the least. While reasons to be pretty and 33 Variations are far from perfect plays, they both at least try to do something interesting. They don’t always succeed- I felt reasons to be pretty suffers because its initial conflict was blown out of proportion, and 33 Variations had way too much narration. But God of Carnage was the only one of the four that did not make me think after it was over, and I want my “Best Play” to give me something to chew on. However, considering the lackluster roster, I’m betting that voters will ultimately go with the most entertaining of the bunch, and since they didn’t pay for their prime seats, I’m betting God of Carnage will win out. I could be wrong; I can also see Dividing the Estate winning (because its author is a classic American playwright who died recently) or reasons to be pretty (because its author is a prolific and “edgy” playwright who is finally being produced on Broadway). But probably not.

Just as the new plays were pretty bad this year, so were the play revivals kind of incredible. Which makes this category tough to call. I can easily see people voting for all four. If I could be sure that voters saw all three plays in The Norman Conquests (which is being counted as one play for the purposes of the Tonys), I’d say this was a lock. And they are supposed to see all three...they are not supposed to vote in any category in which they haven’t seen all of the nominees. But after coming out of the first part, I wasn’t too excited, and only went back to see the other two parts because I already had tickets. If voters, who often have to see a whole bunch of plays and musicals in a short time, skip some of The Norman Conquests because they feel like seeing one part is enough, they may not vote for it. Especially since there is the thrilling production of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, which I think brings out the best qualities of August Wilson’s work. Not to mention Mary Stuart, a new translation of a 200 year-old play, which crackles with two fierce performances. And Mary Stuart has rain, which audiences always love. Finally, there is Waiting for Godot, an excellent production of the landmark Beckett play. Among these three, I’d pick Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, even though Mary Stuart received more nominations.

I actually would love for Bartlett Sher to win this award, for bringing out so much in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. But he won a Tony last year (for directing South Pacific). And Matthew Warchus, who was nominated twice this year (for God of Carnage and The Norman Conquests), did NOT win last year, even though the play he directed, Boeing-Boeing, won for Best Play Revival. So I think this is Warchus’s year. And to be fair, his direction is always terrific; he gives new life to plays that might otherwise seem cheesy (Boeing-Boeing) or just boring (The Norman Conquests), or downright dumb (God of Carnage). I guess it is possible that Warchus fans could split the vote here, and Sher could take it, but I’m betting Warchus will win (and I’ll be quite happy if he does). But for which play? I’ll keep that to myself. Can’t give away all of my secrets.

Wow, this is a very difficult category. Jane Fonda from 33 Variations was considered a shoo-in earlier this year. The other four women are from only two plays, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter are the two best parts of Mary Stuart, and Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis are both good in God of Carnage. I think voters will pick McTeer over Walter, and Harden over Davis, so the contest really seems to be between Jane Fonda, Janet McTeer, and Marcia Gay Harden. This would be the one category in which I won’t mind God of Carnage winning; Marcia Gay Harden is far and away the best thing about that play. But I wouldn’t count out the other two women. Jane Fonda’s return to Broadway was extremely well-received, and although McTeer already won a Tony back in 1997 for A Doll’s House, voters might deem her role the most demanding, and give her a second one.

Most people are predicting Geoffrey Rush will win here, for his tour-de-force performance in Exit the King. I have to agree. I guess it’s possible that Thomas Sadowski (reasons to be pretty) will sneak in, or even that Raul Esparza will finally win for Speed-the-Plow (this is his 4th nomination). I think it less likely that either of the two men from God of Carnage will win here however. As opposed to the women in that play, the men seem more equal (although I liked Jeff Daniels better). And more than just canceling each other out, I don’t think either stands out in one’s memory the way that Geoffrey Rush does.

Another tough call. I’m guessing this is between Hallie Foote (Dividing the Estate) and Angela Lansbury (Blithe Spirit). The actors (Jessica Hynes and Amanda Root) from The Norman Conquests give more of an ensemble performance, and as amazing as that is, it doesn’t let any one person stand out enough to win an award- they are all equally terrific. (This is the same reason why I don’t think either Stephen Mangan or Paul Ritter will win in the Featured Actor category). And quite honestly, I thought Marin Ireland’s character was the biggest problem with reasons to be pretty. While I fault both the playwright and the director (and not the actress, in this case), I don’t see her winning either. So will Angela Lansbury win her fifth Tony award, perhaps because they are finally getting the kind of performance they so wanted (but didn’t get) in Deuce? Or will voters want to give Hallie Foote (who gave the best performance in Dividing the Estate) the award, partly as a way to celebrate her grandfather’s legacy?

Since I’ve already counted out the two actors from The Norman Conquests, this leaves John Glover (Waiting for Godot), Zach Grenier (33 Variations) and Roger Robinson (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone). Grenier was terrific as Beethoven, but if 33 Variations wins anything, I think it will be for Jane Fonda, or perhaps for some technical awards. John Glover plays Lucky in Waiting for Godot, a character who has one long, nonsensical speech, and otherwise silently plods across the stage like a beast of burden. And while the physicality of his performance is incredible (his walk, his drool), I’m guessing Roger Robinson will take this one, for his heartbreaking portrayal of Bynum Walker.

Stay tuned for Part 2- The Musicals


Anonymous said...

Actually, voters are not supposed to vote in any category where they have not seen the nominees. Only voters who HAVE seen all three Norman Conquest plays should be voting. So the argument that the show would lose because voters have not seen all three, doesn't hold. We know that a voter would never vote in a category where they have not been dilligent... Voter turnout is pathetically low and until it is policed the process is like a fixed beauty contest.

Dan Dinero said...

I'm aware of the rule that says a voter should not vote in any category in which they have not seen the nominees. But since I've never heard of a way for anyone to check if a voter HAD seen all the nominees, I'm not sure I buy that voters would refrain from voting in those categories. I guess it is possible that all voters follow all the rules, but I doubt it. So yes, I do think it possible that voters will see just one play in The Norman Conquests and vote anyway.