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.
Following the Bascovs, an extended Jewish, as they gather for two Christmas dinners, the first in 1980 and the second in 2000, Richard Greenberg’s The Assembled Parties is a realistically directed (by Lynn Meadows), realistic play that in a very real way panders to Manhattan Theatre Club’s core audience. It has clever rich people, residing on Central Park West, making clever, liberal quips as they sit around a very realistic dining room table, or as they walk through the realistic hallways of Santo Loquasto‘s superfluously mobile set as it spins and spins. Ok, so that’s a little harsh — if realism is your thing (as it seems to be most critics), The Assembled Parties does it really well, and in an entertaining fashion, largely thanks to some fine performances from nominee Judith Light and Jessica Hecht; but it won’t receive this award.
Receiving its closing notice an hour after the announcement of its Tony nomination, Colm Tóibín’s solo show The Testament of Mary attempted to trump Orphans‘s drama with producer Scott Rudin’s kerscuffle with Times writer Patrick Healy (who implied Rudin closed the show prematurely? Or was tactless in his announcement of the closing? Who knows) — in a very Merrick-like move, Rudin took out an ad in the Times to lamblast a writer for the Times. Viewed by some as just as controversial as Mr. Rudin’s antics and protested by a non-profit Catholic organization on both its first preview and opening night, the play attempts to humanize Mary by depicting her as a grieving mother trying to make sense of her son’s death. As the titular Mother of Christ, Fiona Shaw gives a typically riveting turn as she takes us through the period leading up to Jesus’s death. While Tóibín material is compelling, frequent Shaw-collaborator Deborah Warner stages it too literally, busying the actress with a wide array of props (for the ADD in the audience, like me, this was actually a good thing) and heavy symbolism (including nominee Jennifer Tipton’s lighting of rainbow hues), pushing her from side of the stage to another as she adds layers of clothing before stripping them all off. This probably explains the lack of nominations for Shaw and Warner, and if Best Play was actually awarded to, well, the best play (not production), Mary would have a much better chance.
Lucky Guy, about the rise and fall and rise again of tabloid journalist -cum-Pulitzer-winner Mike McAlary is the least accomplished script here (though perhaps if the late Nora Ephron had gotten the chance to see it through, it wouldn’t be) — but you might not realize it, at least not for some time while you watch, because it is the most accomplished production. Twenty-time nominee George C. Wolfe’s master touch is everywhere from the high-low tech, noir design, to the efficient, fluid staging that easily melds his movie-star lead into the ensemble whenever necessary. The play is Ephron’s love letter to journalists; the production is Wolfe and company’s love letter to Ephron. With six nominations (including Lead Actor, Featured Actor, Set, Lighting), Lucky Guy is a contender, but probably won’t be all that lucky come Sunday night.
The best realization — a good script given a good production — on Broadway this season is Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. 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 (Kristine Nielsen as Maggie Smith. Brilliance.). The production smartly embraces the play’s silly surface — as there’s not much depth below, anyway — and for their zany efforts, four of the six actors also received nominations, and Tony will almost certainly award Vanya.