Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2011 Tony Awards: Best 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 PLAY


1. W
ar Horse/Good People
Nick Stafford / David Lindsay-Abaire

2. Motherf**ker with the Hat
Stephen Adly Guigis 

3. Jerusalem
Jez Butterworth 

This year’s crop of nominees is pretty fantastic, but the category itself is a complex and unfair one. Is this “Best Play” or is it “Best Production of a Play”? Why do the musical categories distinguish between the “Best Book” and “Best Musical,” but playwrights get the shaft?

When it comes down to it, this is recognized by most everyone as the “Best Production” category, and so we must treat it thusly. But since I’m not an actual voter, I can cheat and choose two winners. And so, “Best Production” goes to War Horse, but “Best Play” goes to to Good People.

Oh, Jerusalem. You came across the pond accompanied by such buzz. All the Britons loved, adored and worshipped at the alter of your creator, Jez Butterworth, and then New Yorkers seemingly followed suit, with ample praise for your worthy muse, Mark Rylance. Now, I hate to say this, because I don’t like this type of distinction, but: it must be an English thing. Because while your countrymen bestowed hyperbolic praise on your tale of Johnny “Rooster” Byron, a roguish ne’er-do-well who faces eviction from his trailer in the woods and refuses to acquiesce to authorities, stateside critics did not. Sure, nearly every review was positive-to-a rave, but it was a rave for one Mr. Rylance, without whom, your “state-of-the-nation” play would cease to have any hold over American audiences. Shakespearean ambitions (in language, themes, length) plus irregular success with said ambitions equals a good production of a promising play with a brilliant performance. Alas, this does not a Tony Award-winner make.

Motherf**ker with the Hat is a solid, funny, thoughtful work about addiction and relationships and addiction to relationships. While Anna D. Shapiro keeps the pace quick and the humor edgy, drawing solid performances out of all of her cast except for Chris Rock, you simply can’t escape the fact that this feels, looks and sounds like just about every other Stephen Adly Guirgis play. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s also not enough to win the Tony.

If we sent Good People to London, would Britons react similarly to our reception of Jerusalem? (That Frances McDormand — so bloody fantastic!… but really, what’s the point here?) Set in Bostons’s Southie neighborhood David Lindsay-Abaire’s latest follows Margie Walsh who is facing eviction and scrambling to catch a break. Raising difficult questions with unsentimental observation and scrappy characters, Good People explores the struggles, shifting loyalties and unshakeable hopes that come with having next to nothing in America. Relevant to our difficult economic times without ever grasping for topicality and full of intricate relationships and richly complex characters, Good People received a suitably solid and un-flashy production from director Daniel Sullivan.

But War Horse has this award on lock, despite its sentimental and predictable story of a boy and his horse in WWI. Full of overly familiar plot lines and two-dimensional characters, Nick Stafford’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel is certainly not award-worthy — but Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris‘s production is. War Horse is, by far, the most imaginative, visionary and theatrically moving work of the season. In a category full of  über-realistic nominees, its astonishing visual storytelling rightly stands out as the worthiest for New York theatre’s top award.

One comment on “2011 Tony Awards: Best Play

  1. P. Smith
    June 12, 2011

    Your opening paragraph is the smartest thing I’ve read in months. Thank you.

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This entry was posted on June 12, 2011 by in Award Predictions, Broadway, Theatre, Tony Awards.

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