Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2013 Tony Awards Predictions: 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.

BEST DIRECTOR OF A PLAY

lucky-articleLarge

1. George C. Wolfe
LUCKY GUY

2. Nicholas Martin
VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE

3. Pam MacKinnon
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

Bartlett Sher
GOLDEN BOY

I didn’t see Golden Boy (oy, I’m sick of typing that), but by all accounts, Bartlett Sher expertly led a stellar design team and cast of nineteen, resulting in a riveting production. Yet, for some reason, the five-time nominee (he won for South Pacific in 2008) is not the #1 pick here.

And neither is Pam MacKinnon, despite nearly unanimous plaudits from the critics for her helming of the revival of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Under her direction, a grim and unbalanced game — in which the tables are turned, and George dominated a vulnerable Martha — unfolded at a steady pace, highlighting Albee’s savage humor but also subduing its absurdity. MacKinnon cultivated believable sparring partners in Morton and Letts, but the production felt too controlled; it lacked an element of terrifying discomfort — the potential that this couple could become completely unhinged at any given moment. MacKinnon was also highly praised for her other Tony-nominated production — last season’s Clybourne Park — and she lost out then, too. Don’t expect her to garner her first Tony here.

Taking a cue from the Oscars (except for, you know, this year), this award will go to he who helmed the Best Play winner, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (sorry, was that supposed to be a surprise?). Nicholas Martin directs Christopher Durang’s 2.5-hour-inside-Chekhov-joke like the funny-fest it is with light, broad strokes. His fine cast has no problem going for the laughs with gusto, even if it sometimes results in a bit of mugging. Smart to embrace the play’s silly surface — as there’s not much depth below, anyway — the previous nominee of The 39 Steps going to be awarded for keeping the whole affair simple, swift and spirited.

But whenever George C. Wolfe is a contenderthere’s no guarantee of another winner. This is his twentieth nomination, for crying out loud, and he’s won five times before, most recently in 2003 for Take Me Out. His genius lies in his minimalism and his movement, and both are on display in Lucky Guy, the late Nora Ephron’s work that’s, let’s face it, is über-lucky to have been placed in such expert hands. In her dramatization of the real-life story of tabloid journalist Mike McAlary’s rise and fall and rise again, Ephron employed loads of direct-address narration, crafting a drama that’s not all that, well, dramatic. Wolfe managed to fix this problem without ever really drawing attention to it. His movie-star leading man melds into an ensemble of expert stage actors as he moves them — a Greek Chorus of journalists — and they move the portable set pieces, around the stage in an ever-fluid forward movement that Ephron’s fact-heavy script generally lacks. Integrating media to offer some visual relief from the aural, as well as some Irish ballads for bonding at the bar — with synchronized stomping as the reporters swill their pints and spill their stories — Wolfe knows exactly how to use all the tricks of the trade in an unshowy, highly efficient manner that manages to lift the text rather than drown it. In a lesser director’s hands, Ephron’s messy love letter to journalism would’ve been just that — a mess. But with Wolfe, Ephron found the best kind of caretaker: one who loved her enough to love the work — and to bolster it in the right ways when it needed it.

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