a theatre, film & pop culture review
Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.
How the heck did Billy Crudup nab the obligatory Arcadia nomination from Raúl Esparza? Perhaps the nominating committee was feeling rather sentimental since Crudup originated the role of Septimus Hodge in the 1995 Broadway production — but they shouldn’t have. Crudup’s performance as the foppish academic Bernard Nightingale is hyperbolic in every way: madly gesticulating as he shouts nearly all his lines, he’s so wound-up, he looks as though he’ll suffer a coronary at any moment. One assumes this is meant to be read as ardency, but Crudup is so overwrought that his Nightingale comes off as a pompous ass. Instead, Raúl Esparaza, a calming presence we are all thankful for after the exhausting Crudup, deserved recognition for his thoughtful turn as the sensitive Valentine.
In a scene-stealing turn in Motherf**ker with the Hat, Yul Vazquez is delightfully bizarre yet perceptive as Julio, the easily offended cousin of Bobby Cannavale’s Jackie — you’ll never again hear “Van Damme” (yep, as in Jean Claude) without thinking of Yul and laughing. John Benjamin Hickey‘s sensitive turn as Felix, the New York Times fashion writer who deteriorates before our eyes in devastating progression in The Normal Heart, is a heartrending amalgamation of the personal and the political that is second only to the brilliant Joe Mantello’s Ned Weeks. And you’d think it impossible to steal the stage from the larger-than-life Mark Rylance, but the gangly and droll Mackenzie Crook (yep, that guy with the glass eyeball in Pirates of the Caribbean) manages to do just — multiple times — as a semi-contemptuous follower in the Brit import Jerusalem. So impressive is this feat that he’s the clear frontrunner in this category.
But it’s Arian Moayed as Musa, the Arabic translator working with the U.S. military during the Iraq occupation, that so improves upon the role he is given in Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo, that you can’t help but sit up and take notice. A topiary artist — he creates a zoo of giant giraffes and elephants out of plants — whose world is shattered when his beloved sister is viciously raped and butchered by his employer, Musa carries the entire emotional weight of the play. Played by a lesser talent, Bengal Tiger could have been an even more trying experience than it already is, but Moayed creates incredible depths and layers to his Musa. Taking great care with each moment, he beautifully lands difficult (read: not good) jokes with a light, genuine touch, and creates a slow and heartbreaking devolution from devastated victim to destructive perpetrator. Musa is haunted by the ghosts of his sister and her killer, and in turn we are haunted by the soulful, penetrating performance of Moayed. He is what makes Bengal Tiger worth watching, but unfortunately, the play’s inherent problems (and lack of larger critical acclaim) will work against him, and the award will go to one of the flashier nominees.