Friday, February 26, 2010

The Leading Ladies

This year has been an interesting year for leading ladies in plays, with many major performances relegated to the featured actress category, including Jessica Hecht and Scarlett Johansson in A View From the Bridge, Abigail Breslin in The Miracle Worker, and Rosemary Harris in The Royal Family.  There has also been an onslaught of male driven plays this year, including Superior Donuts, A Steady Rain, RaceHamlet, and Next Fall -- plays in which there were either no women at all or none so prominent as to be eligible for lead actress status.

That being the case, I will start off with the list of who I predict will be nominated and will then talk about the others who are eligible but will not, as far as I can guess, be nominated without major changes in buzz.

My first choice is Valerie Harper in Looped -- the play about a drunken Tallulah Bankhead rerecording, or looping, a line of dialogue for what would become her last film.  This is a wonderful, juicy character for an actress, and the kind of part that Broadway just loves to talk about.  This being the sixth play about the dahling actress to come to Broadway, I would have to agree that Broadway's interest in this character is still alive and healthy -- and that the nominators are morel likely than not to nominate Valerie Harper, a well respected actress who was praised out of town as being better than the play itself, for playing her.

Another of our community's greatest actresses, Laura Linney, came back to the boards this year in one of her most praised performances yet in Time Stands Still.  Ms. Linney is unique in feeling a responsibility to return to the stage every so often, and we love her for it.  Add to that her talent and the extent to which she was praised, it all adds up to a nomination in my book.

Alison Pill will be bringing Anne Bancroft's role in The Miracle Worker back to Broadway in the first ever revival of this classic William Gibson play.  This is a relatively demanding, difficult part to play well due to the language barrier between Annie Sullivan (Ms. Pill's character) and Helen Keller, the character with whom she spends the most stage time.  Ms. Pill, a previous Tony nominee for her performance in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, has become a relatively regular face in the New York theater scene and is fast gaining a positive reputation for doing good work.  Add to the mix that the character Alison will be playing is one that won Anne Bancroft both the Tony AND the Oscar -- one of only eight performances ever to do so and I think a nomination is in order.

Next up is Laurie Metcalf for Brighton Beach Memoirs.  While I think a win here would be a long shot, the nomination would be reminiscent of Mary Louise Parker in Reckless and Laura Linney in Sight Unseen -- a solid, well received performance by a great actress in a play that closed months ago.  Unlike those other two performances, this year the playing field in this category is more level.  In 2005, Linney and Parker were up against Cherry Jones in Doubt, Kathleen Turner in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Phylicia Rashad in Gem of the Ocean -- a high bar to meet and VERY steep competition.

My last nomination pick this year goes to Jan Maxwell in The Royal Family.  This was a diva performance in the best of ways and Maxwell deserves to win for playing Julie Cavendish -- a variation of the great Ethel Barrymore.  Maxwell is a rare form of Broadway star who can star in plays or musicals, comedy or drama, and draw your attention every time.  With two previous Tony nominations under her belt, a third nomination is certainly in the future for her in what I think is the best performance of the season.

There are two other contenders who are on my radar as having potential in this category (even if that potential is slim): Laura Benanti for In the Next Room ... or the Vibrator Play and Megan Mullally in Lips Together, Teeth Apart.  While Laura, a Tony winner for the most recent revival of Gypsy, is well loved in the community, this performance was not singled out by anyone as being special the same way that the other performances have been.  Also, her show closed long enough ago that, without the shining review that some of the others in this category have, it will be relatively difficult for her to be nominated this time around.  As for Megan, another well loved performer, I would like to see what is said about her and her show before predicting her for anything.  That being said, however, I have difficulty seeing anything stand out as much as the five performances I have discussed above.  The only possibility I can see in store for Megan is that her show will still be running come nomination time, and THAT may give her a slight edge over, for example, Laurie Metcalf.

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