Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2012 Tony Awards: Best Direction of 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. Those that are listed but not ranked are productions that I was not able to see.

 

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY


1. Nicholas Hytner
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS

2. Roger Rees and Alex Timbers
PETER AND THE STARCATCHER

3. Pam MacKinnon
CLYBOURNE PARK

Mike Nichols
DEATH OF A SALESMAN 

Two years have passed, and it’s difficult for me to recall the details of Pat MacKinnon’s direction for Clybourne Park. But what remains with me is the more-than-solid ensemble work that she draws from her talented cast. Bruce Norris’s nasty zingers fly back and forth at a crackling pace, and as dictated by the text, she choreographs her players with a cool touch.

Together, Roger Rees and Alex Timbers boast an infinite — and infinitely impressive — imagination. Exuberantly staging a cast that plays over 60 characters in Peter and the Starcatcher, the two wunderkinds create a whimsical, exuberant, quickly paced and quick-witted show from what is not exactly exceptional material. Yet they manage to guide a fabulous cast — that Christian Borle! — to create what is a delightfully silly, wonderfully low-tech, highly theatrical, and most enjoyable night at the theatre.

Had I simply read One Man, Two Guvnors, I wouldn’t think it was one lick funny. The silliest of slapstick, this farce could fall flat on its face if not directed with such clever precision as done by Nicholas Hytner (War Horse). With endless inventiveness and breakneck speed, Hytner takes his comedy seriously and it seriously shows: as soon as the show’s conceit is made clear, the gut-busting shenanigans follow one on top of another. But let’s give credit where credit is due: Hytner had some help from physical comedy director Cal McCrystal in creating the controlled chaos.

Though there were a handful of dissenters, critics generally hailed the balance and clarity that director Mike Nichols brought to his revival of Death of a Salesman. And while I wouldn’t know, most folks considered his recreation of the original 1949 set and score, as well as his traditional staging and his more than capable cast, to be super-brilliant: More than a few, so moved, declared it was “like seeing the play for the first time.”

Once again, it’s apples vs. oranges, and Nichols’s stirring work with the classic Miller will surely trump Hytner’s perfectly timed pratfalls.

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