Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2011 Tony Awards: Best Actor 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 winners will be in orange.


1. Joe Mantello
The Normal Heart

2. Mark Rylance

3. Bobby Cannavale
The Motherf**ker with the Hat

4. Al Pacino
The Merchant of Venice

5. Brian Bedford
The Importance of Being Earnest

Missing: Tom Riley, Arcadia

Brian Bedford joins Norbert Leo Butz in the “wait, what the… I thought you were supporting..?” category within the nominees for Best Actor. It’s mostly because he commands so much less stage time — and so has less opportunity to ingratiate himself with the audience —  that he really hasn’t a shot of winning here. He received rave reviews across the board for his hilariously dour dowager (yes, Lady Bracknell is played — yawn — by a gentleman in Victorian drag) who makes the young lovers cower with a single icy look of disdain. But it’s simply not enough considering the company he keeps in this category.

If you haven’t seen the performances, you may think Al Pacino is a shoo-in — simply by fact of being Al Pacino. But Al, god bless him, does his Al thing: all bellowing fury, he rages across the stage in The Merchant of Venice as Shylock, the vengeful Jewish lender. He does bring a harrowing humanity to the role, creating layers of thoughtful complexity in his quieter moments of contemplation. But it’s the Al Show that so fascinates us — surely he was speaking in iambic pentameter, and yet, he sounded like no one else on stage with him, creating a rhythm of speech all his own. Regardless of the actor’s endearing eccentricities, Merchant has long been closed, and other performances have since overtaken the buzz on Broadway.

I have a soft spot for Bobby Cannavale (out of fear that some readers may not take me seriously, I will refrain from saying why, but if you know me, you know..), and he is just as charming in The Motherf**ker with the Hat as you anticipate him to be — even as he spews profanity, homophobic slurs and teeters on the edge of lover’s paranoia regarding that titular motherf**cker. Explosively funny, his very physical performance — the lovers’ spats are so intense, you swear he’s going to pop a blood vessel in that bulging neck of his — alternates between volatile and insecure, cocky and caring. It’s a terrific performance, but unfortunately he’s up against two heavy hitters.

The astounding stand-out in The Normal Heart is Joe Mantello as Ned Weeks, the demanding, determined, obnoxious writer who fights, hard, to make the city, the governor, his own brother, hear and believe him regarding the deadly temerity of AIDS (see video clip below — and check out that cardigan! *obsession*). A harried Mantello constantly fidgets, running his fingers through his hair, his mind clearly racing even more quickly than his mouth is speaking. Unsure of his body and unaware of the unnerving palpability of his own excitement and big ideas, his Ned suddenly hovers too close, and then pulls back just as quickly. He has no concept of personal space; he does not believe in even the iota of a possibility of an opinion besides his own; he is fiercely intelligent, abrasively driven, and heartbreakingly dedicated to his dying lover. He is Larry Kramer’s stand-in, and Mantello offers a vigorous, vivid and strikingly honest portrayal that, if it were any other year, any other race, would win undoubtedly him a Tony Award.

But it’s Mark Rylance‘s year. He first dazzled critics last fall with his turn as the the vulgar comedian Valere in the revival of La Bête, and now he’s soliciting hyperbolic praise for his portrayal 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. On stage for nearly the entirety of the Shakespearean-length drama, Rylance is a force to be reckoned with. Johnny is both hero and villain, comedic and tragic, and Rylance steamrolls his competition (except, notably, Mantello) as he delivers Falstaffian speeches with fiery intensity and sordid magnetism. This showy role requires a showy performance, and without the astonishing Rylance, this production would fall flat. There is zero doubt he’ll be going home with the Tony.


2 comments on “2011 Tony Awards: Best Actor in a Play

  1. Jennifer Sassaman
    June 1, 2011

    Thank goodness for your blog, it makes me feel relatively caught up even though I haven’t seen anything! I don’t know how anyone lived in Alabama before the internet!


    • Julie
      June 1, 2011

      Glad to help 😉


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This entry was posted on June 1, 2011 by in Award Predictions, Broadway, Theatre, Tony Awards.



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