Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2012 Tony Awards: Best 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 ACTRESS IN A PLAY

1. LINDA LAVIN
The Lyons 

2. TRACIE BENNETT
End of the Rainbow 

3. NINA ARIANDA
Venus in Fur 

4. STOCKARD CHANNING
Other Desert Cities

CYNTHIA NIXON
Wit 

While I’d typically leave a big gun like “Best Actress” until later in the blogging game, it’s the only category I’ve seen (almost) in full, and we have to start somewhere, sometime, don’t we?  There are only 22 days left until the Big Awards Day, so let’s get down to it.

I missed the revival of one-hit-wonder Margaret Edson’s Wit (and no, I’m not too broken up about it), but it seems critics were split on Cynthia Nixon‘s performance. Regardless, the show closed in January, meaning it — and Nixon’s shattering (or not-so-shattering, depending on who you ask) turn as the unsentimental professor dying of ovarian cancer — is long forgotten. Sorry, Cindy, but you’ll always have Rabbithole.

Stockard Channing is supremely solid as the hard-edged Palm Springs Reaganite in Jon Robin Baitz’s ho-hum Other Desert Cities, and critics have raved, some even declaring the performance a career best for the stalwart. But while Stockard’s bracing for battle of the political and personal nightly, she’s been doing so since January 2011 (the play — and the actress — transferred to Broadway in November). Aren’t you tired, Stockard? We are, and I think Tony might be a little tired (of you), too.

Then there’s that brilliant gem of a comic-performer, Nina Arianda. The girl is magic in everything: she sparkled her way through the slight revival of Born Yesterday, utterly charming us with her infectious girlish giggle and earning a Tony Award nom for it, and this year, she’s in full command of David Ives’s battle of the sexes, Venus in Fur. She brings fire and intensity, and of course that brilliant comic flair, elevating the otherwise overhyped kinky role-reversal play. Her talent is already legendary, and if, like Stockard, she hadn’t been performing this role for nearly two years (though there was a break between the off-Broadway to Broadway transfer), she’d be a shoe-in. As it is, she’s certainly perfectly positioned for a spoiler.

But there are two fresh (stateside, at least) performances that have just come on the map, and while Tracie Bennett‘s jaw-dropping impression of Judy Garland in her last desperate, drug-addled days in End of the Rainbow is a true powerhouse of a performance, it inspires more admiration (how the hell does the 50-year-old actress do that every night — and do it every night for over two years in London and now on Broadway? It was just announced that after Broadway, she’s off to L.A. and then on to tour!) than emotion. It’s a technically pitch-perfect  performance — she sings just like Judy, too — but for all its truth, Peter Quilter’s writing is lacking an emotional vitality, and Bennett, voraciously putting her guts out on full display nightly, literally cannot do anything more to make up for the play’s inherent weaknesses.

Then there’s Linda Lavin. In The Lyons, she masters Nicky Silver’s characteristic monster-mom — in her hands, the Silverian snappingly cruel wit flutters off the tongue as nonchalance with lacerating tonal shifts and the lightest — and most shockingly dismissive — of hand gestures. Lavin, who won her only Tony Award in 1987 for Broadway Bound, has been embodying the disturbingly funny matriarch since the show’s off-Broadway run at the Vineyard this fall, and she turned down two other Broadway transfers (Follies and Other Desert Cities, the latter of which I was lucky enough to witness — love you, Judy Light, but I’m not sure you can top the Lavin) to accompany the dysfunctional Lyons family to Broadway. Let’s just say she made the right choice — Tony’s sure to agree.


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This entry was posted on May 19, 2012 by in Award Predictions, Broadway, Theatre, Tony Awards.

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