Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2011 Tony Awards: Best Featured Actress in a Play

Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winner will be in orange.

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY

1. Judith Light
Lombardi

2. Edie Falco
The House of Blue Leaves

3. Ellen Barkin
The Normal Heart

4. Elizabeth Rodriguez
The Motherf**ker with the Hat

Joanna Lumley
La Bête

Alas, alas, I missed La Bête, and while the critics seemed to universally adore Joanna Lumley‘s performance, there is absolutely no Tony buzz surrounding her. There’s not much more talk about Elizabeth Rodriguez who, in her Broadway debut as Veronica, the spitfire, foulmouthed  girlfriend of Bobby Cannavale’s Jackie. Rodriguez had tough-girl attitude to spare and the accompanying hard-edged sense of humor, she never quite allowed us to see Veronica’s softer, sensitive side (unlike Cannavale, who wore his big thumping heart on his sleeve).

In her Broadway debut, Ellen Barkin is the sure bet here, as The Normal Heart‘s outraged AIDS doctor who angrily demands abstinence within the gay community. Dr. Emma Brookner is a bit of a sticky wicket of a role, with some lengthy, medical-centric speeches. While the fiery Barkin holds her own with the difficult material, she’s a bit too stiff, never fully slipping into the thick skin of the wheelchair-bound doc.

There is a sliver of a hint that either of the final two nominees could overtake Barkin in this race. Edie Falco, for one, has already received the Drama Desk Award for her turn as the aptly-named Bananas Shaughnessy in the rather drab revival of The House of Blue Leaves (David Cromer, what is up?). Always a moment away from being carted off to the asylum, Falco is wild-haired, disheveled and needy, wandering listlessly across the stage one moment, then dropping to her knees and yapping like a purse-puppy the next. Bananas could easily be played as, well, totally bananas, but Falco, fascinatingly, makes her the most aware person onstage. She creates moments of such clarity: her eyes begin to well for no specific reason, or she glances around confusedly with a lost, stricken look. And then, with no warning, her gaze clears and she’s completely present, reveling in her cognizance as she reveals unsettling truths and unwavering love for her philandering husband. The ghostly Falco gives weight and complexity to a one-layered production, and if anyone bests Barkin, it’s sure to be her.

But it’s Judith Light as the woman-behind-Lombardi that captivated, and perhaps surprised, the most. As dry as her martinis, Light’s Marie Lombardi wielded a sharp humor and endearing protectiveness of her coach-husband. Apart from him, she was the tough-as-nails, stately New Jersey Housewife with a strong, comically stiff gait; with him, she visibly softened in playful, unwavering adoration of the man she sacrificed so much for. It’s in the brief transitory moments when Light is alone onstage that we see the pain of that sacrifice: burdened with its weight, her body becomes heavy and her expression, weary, and even sipping her beloved highball becomes too much for her. For these moments of emotional honesty, for her superb sardonic delivery, and for the simple fact that when she’s not onstage, you desperately wish she was, the play should be re-titled Mrs. Lombardi. Because Mrs. Light stole the show.

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This entry was posted on June 4, 2011 by in Award Predictions, Broadway, Theatre, Tony Awards.

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