Thursday, February 11, 2010

Some early politicking

Well ... now that my first predictions are up, I thought I would talk about the process by which I arrived at them.  I'm going to talk about the one of the biggest categories of the night -- Best Play -- right now, and update about the process for more categories over the next few days.  In these posts, I'll mostly be talking about the shows I've picked for nomination, but if you want to see a full list of who is eligible, I have a post from a few weeks ago listing every production that opened this season or is planning to open by the Tony cut-off date.

The category for new plays is a tricky one this year, mainly because so many of the shows that are eligible are set to close long before the nominations come out, if they haven't closed already.  This will make it difficult for nominators who may not remember every production they saw because they can't go back to revisit a show that's already closed.  It will be even harder for such shows to win once the nominations are out because, while the nominating committee at least sees every production once, not every voter sees every show -- and some voters (owners of Road Houses, where touring productions play) might not have seen ANY of this year's shows.

For this reason, I have entirely ruled out "A Steady Rain", which not only closed months ago, but got such negative reviews that anyone who remembers it is unlikely to give it one of the coveted four nomination slots.  A similar logic goes to Sarah Ruhl's "In the Next Room ... or the Vibrator Play".  This play got mixed reviews and closed long enough before the nominations that its chances are slim.  It does, however, have the saving grace of marking the Broadway playwriting debut of a female playwright who has been well respected for her previous work.  Is this enough to secure it a nomination?  Not for sure, but this does give it a leg up in nominators' minds.  

Since "Next Fall", "Looped", and "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" have not yet opened, it is not yet clear how well done each is and, therefore, how each will fare come nomination time.  That being said, however, I do have some thoughts on these.  The fact that I know almost nothing about "Next Fall" -- its plot is unknown to me, it has no stars that I'm aware of in either the cast or creative team, I've never heard of the playwright -- I find it unlikely that it will get nominated without some stellar reviews across the board.  As for "Looped", a play starring Valerie Harper as the marvelous Tellulah Bankhead going back to the studio to loop one last line of dialogue, I feel as though this is simply a star vehicle.  While there may be some attention-worthy acting in the show, I think that is where this show's deservedness stops.  And with "Lips Together, Teeth Apart", Terrence McNally's play about two straight couples entering a gay community on Fire Island after one character's brother dies of AIDS, we have a topic that's been done before (Angels in America, Love, Valour, Compassion, etc.) so many times and in such historic productions that this play won't have the weight that it needs to get a nomination.

As for my actual choices?  All four of my choices are new works by previously successful playwrights.

The first is "A Behanding in Spokane" by Martin McDonagh, who is known for his Leenane trilogy (including "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" and "The Lonesome West"), and his chilling fairy tale for grownups, "The Pillowman".  His plays have consistantly received rave or near rave reviews, and McDonagh has received 4 previous nominations without a single win.  And the starry cast, including Zoe Kazan (directing legend Elia Kazan's granddaughter), Sam Rockwell, Anthony Mackie, and Christopher Walken, will certainly make waves in this suspensfull thriller.

Next is Donald Margulies' "Time Stands Still".  A Pulitzer Prize winner for his play "Dinner With Friends", with two other plays having been finalists for the award (including the always popular "Sight Unseen"), Margulies has never been nominated for a Tony, and this play has been reviewed pretty consistently as his best play yet.  Add in the stellar leading performances by two theater vets, Laura Linney and Brian d'Arcy James, in what may be the best performances of their careers thus far, this is pretty much a sure bet for a Tony nomination come May 4th.

Then, we have "Race".  While the reviews were only mixed, and the production follows a long string of poorly received, short lived Broadway productions of Mamet plays lately, Mamet still knows how to tackle tough issues and challenge our thoughts.  This is his directorial debut on Broadway, Mamet may be nominated as a result, mostly out of respect for a legend who has never won a Tony, and for getting us talking about a hot button issue in a new medium, let alone for being one of a small handful of new plays still running come nomination time.

Last, we have Tracy Letts' new play "Superior Donuts".  While Letts had a huge success two seasons ago with "August: Osage County", this play failed to pick up much of an audience because of a lack of star power at a time when much of Hollywood was invading Broadway.  The play packs a powerful punch and is among the best written plays I've seen in a while, making it (in my mind, anyhow) quite deserving of a nomination.

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