Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2013 Tony Awards Predictions: Lead 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.


Lucky Guy Broadhurst Theatre

1. Tom Hanks

2. David Hyde Pierce

3. Tom Sturridge

4. Nathan Lane

5. Tracy Letts

I sat here for a good ten minute staring blankly at an empty screen before finally, and rather randomly, selecting the order above. The truth is that all of these performances are fine, but none are exceptional.

Though Tracy Letts‘s portrayal of George was more effective than Amy Morton’s less-showy and strangely more sympathetic Martha, he, like the revival itself, seemed oddly contained, even as the power swapped sexes. Letts’s George was not Martha’s whipping boy; thrusting his fists into his stretched-out cardigan, the physically imposing Tracy Letts acted the simmering and tightly-wound as well as he writes it (August: Osage County): crumbling into self-loathing one minute, he one-eightied into vicious lashing the next. Martha started the evening’s game, but it was Letts’s George who effortlessly and ruthlessly controlled, and then finished, it. He and Morton made believable sparring partners, but all the love was lost, and as a result, so was the heat from this production. This is his first Tony nomination for acting, but it will not be his first win in this category.

For his turn in The Nance, Nathan Lane gets the best reviews he’s had since The Producers (which, when considering which shows he’s graced since then, is not surprising), with critics defaulting to hyperbolic descriptors such as “masterful” and “brilliant.” And it’s true that Douglas Carter Beane wrote the role with Lane in mind, and the actor whole-heartedly commits, clearly sympathizing with Chauncy, who plays a caricature of gay on stage, but can’t be the real thing, publicly, off. Lane ,of course, can do the vaudevillian song and dance routine in his sleep, and he has no problem throwing off Beane’s litany of (mostly cheap, but apt) jokes, letting them sail through the air before landing like daggers. Admirably switching between the artificial and real, sometimes at ludicrous frequency, he manages, with those downcast eyes and toothless smile, to relay both the deep sorrow and the great delight of Chauncy’s double life. But he can never quite fix the character’s inherent incongruities, and in the end, we simply don’t feel as deeply for him as we should.

A newbie to the New York stage (but a veteran of London’s), Tom Sturridge had no problem commanding it. Living with his hoodlum brother in a decrepit house, his Phillip is the mentally challenged orphan who brings to mind Leonardo DiCaprio’s inspired turn in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Open-hearted and agoraphobic, seemingly afraid of his own shadow but thrilled by the taste of words as they loll off his tongue, Philip, on the page, is a recipe for sentimental disaster (the autistic boy who learns to stand up for himself), but Sturridge does something magnificent with him. His Philip is remarkably physically agile, leaping from chair to banister to window in astoundingly efficient bounds as though swinging and bounding around a jungle gym. As he does so, you see the inner-workings of his obsessive mind: this spot of sofa is safe, the closet is just three jumps away, that window seat hides secrets. He has memorized every inch of the space — its touch, its width, its ability to make him feel secure. He’s curious and trusting, and he’s the riveting heart of Orphans. Unfortunately, his (ex)co-star’s off-stage drama, a mediocre play and an early closing equate to no Tony this time around.

Watching Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, you think, “David Hyde Pierce is nice and all, but a Tony, really?” and then that Act II monologue happens. Simultaneously an epic homage to lost joys (stamp licking!) and an enraged rant against our bastardized American culture (we’re connected to devices, not each other, etc. etc.), DPH gives what many critics like to label a “virtuosic” performance — all sputtering, funny indignation. It’s fun to watch the fine actor lose himself in his character’s wordy, speedy meltdown, but it’s but a brief, shining moment in a performance that is mostly on the sidelines. It won’t earn him his second Tony.

So it comes down to the movie star, and why shouldn’t it? There’s no crazy(-good) comedian from the U.K. to usurp the award this year, and Tom Hanks, who according to his bio hasn’t been onstage since 1978, gives a surprisingly solid, and even moving, performance. As the titular Lucky Guy — the tabloid journalist, Mike McAlary, who garnered a Pulitzer for his exposé on the NYPD torture of a Haitian man in 1997 Brooklyn — the decent, likable Hanks gamely roughens his usually soft edges, exuding a harried doggedness that only increases from start to finish. Mustached and boasting a bit of a belly, he’s clearly having a good time getting gritty in graffitied 1980s New York. It’s an entertaining performance in an entertaining, if flawed, show, and frankly that’s enough — this award is as good as his.


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