Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2012 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 winners will be in orange


BEST PLAY


1. PETER AND THE STARCATCHER

2. CLYBOURNE PARK

3. OTHER DESERT CITIES

4. VENUS IN FUR

Now, now, before you go all crazy on me for my top choice, hear me out: Tony voters don’t really consider this the Best Play category. If they did, War Horse never would’ve won, right? That syrupy sentimental play was chockfull of two-dimensional characters — but those gorgeous, brilliantly realized puppets! The production was incredible, the play was not.

And thus: Peter and the Starcatcher. No, it doesn’t have an actual chance of winning (but wouldn’t that be fun? I love surprises), but it’s by far the most theatrical, and gleefully revels in that fact. Co-directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers boast an infinite — and infinitely impressive — imagination, exuberantly staging a cast that plays over 60 characters to create a whimsical, quickly paced and quick-witted show from what is not exactly exceptional material. Yet they manage to guide a fabulous cast — that Christian Borle! — and clever design team in telling a  delightfully silly and wonderfully low-tech tale of Peter Pan. If given the choice to see any of these nominees again, I’d choose Peter in a heartbeat.

David Ives’s battle of the sexes, Venus in Fur, boasts a star-making turn by the sparkling Nina Arianda who elevates everything she’s in with her brilliant comedic sensibility. But beyond Arianda’s magnetic presence, the kinky role-reversal play is rather slight and definitely overhyped. Venus isn’t even in this race.

Clybourne Park, inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, is a provocative comedy of (bad) manners that explores the change in a Chicago suburb when a white family moves out in 1958, and then in 2008, when a white family moves in. Pat MacKinnon directs a talented cast, but the ending is problematic, and the play — and its characters — are a little too cool to the touch. Bruce Norris has a knack for gleefully nasty zingers, but there’s a self-congratulatory feel to the writing — really, America’s still racist? Thanks for pointing that out — and the characters lack substance. But it’s slickly written and produced, and so this Pulitzer Prize-winning play will likely take home the Tony.

But if it doesn’t, Other Desert Cities will. Jon Robin Baitz’s political drama about the intricacies of loyalty and love is sprinkled with melodrama, but critics are lapping it up — “The best new play since August: Osage County!” raves one. Well, no, not exactly, but it is perfectly positioned as the spoiler.

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