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.
Missing: Bette Midler, I’ll Eat You Last; Fiona Shaw, The Testament of Mary; Jessica Hecht, The Assembled Parties
This Broadway season was an embarrassment of riches when it came to very fine leading performances by women. While I’m particularly disappointed that the incomparable Bette Midler was left off this list (she crafts a full experience from the slightest of plays by John Logan), I also found Fiona Shaw marvelous (even if she was chewing that scenery a bit) and Jessica Hecht quite, quite lovely. There simply were simply too many superb performances.
So what are we left with? Well, for starters, the performance that most disappointed me this year. The husky-voiced Amy Morton (2008 Tony nominee for August: Osage County), icy and steely in shapeless sweaters and severe headbands, is more awkward than believable in her attempts to seduce a younger man in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She packs none of the over-the-top heat of Elizabeth Taylor; rather, each of her actions and reactions is methodical. This is not the emotionally volatile Martha prone to hot bursts of anger, but one who tactically picks her battles and then backs off when faced head-on with a much stronger foe. It’s not an uninteresting take on the character (and one which director Pam MacKinnon certainly takes large credit for), and in fact, it was one which most critics admired — but it simply didn’t work for me.
In Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Kristine Nielsen may give the best, most uproarious Maggie Smith impression of, well, all time — she brilliantly draws out the word “nominated” into an awe-inspiring six syllables. But this is not the Tony Award for Best Celebrity Impression. I found that co-star Sigourney Weaver, left out here, gave a more nuanced performance.
I’m going to do a little bit of cheating here. I didn’t actually see Laurie Metcalf perform in Sharr White’s The Other Place on Broadway, though I did see her in the role Off-Broadway over two years ago. Truth bet told, I don’t recall particulars of her performance, but from all the reviews it seems almost unanimously agreed upon that, as the neurologist whose life becomes unhinged just as she’s about to make a breakthrough in her research, Metcalf gives a tour de force performance, transforming moment to moment from competence to complete unawareness as she (dis)remembers. Though the show closed in March, the reviews were so good for its star that she is well-set to spoil here.
Dear Cicely Tyson. Dear, wonderful, charming Cicely Tyson. As the elderly Carrie Watts who longs to return to her hometown — that truly is the extent of the slim plot in Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful — Cicely Tyson is magic. The 79-year-old actress hasn’t been on Broadway in thirty years, but you wouldn’t know it from her beautiful command of the stage. Tyson imbues the dogged Watts with a charming, very funny stubbornness and an infectiously sunny disposition. She’s so endearing, and so effortlessly has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand, that when she sings a hymn, we all join in — even those of us who don’t know the hymn. Despite a tinge of indulgent hamminess, Tyson radiates absolute joy and is such a delight to watch that I can’t imagine the award going to anyone else.
Except that’s a lie, obviously, because I’ve placed Holland Taylor above her. In Ann, Taylor plays (and has written) the titular one-time Texas Governor Ann Richards, and she has it all down: the cotton-candy cloud of white hair and the presidential pearls, the brutal and brilliant comic timing, and the warmth of a thousand suns as she loudly and openly cracks wise about alcoholism and liberalism in one of the most conservative states in the nation. Solo shows are tough, but if this season has taught us anything, it’s that strong actresses have zero problems holding the attention of Broadway audiences on their own, and Holland’s intimate chatter and lively storytelling makes it feel as though you’re sitting by a fireplace with a cuppa tea and a dear old friend. And like any good friend, I’m rooting for her.