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.
Sometimes it’s said that if the same actor is nominated in multiple categories for different shows, or if multiple actors from a single show are nominated in the same category, their chances of winning are lessened. Naturally, none of this affects one Mark Rylance who wins anything and everything whenever he sets foot on the stage. Exaggeration? Sure, a little. He’s not going to win Best Actor in a Lead Role, of course, but that’s because his bereaved and impetuous Olivia is such a marvel that if he can only win one, there’s no question it’ll be this one. He leaves such an impression that even a decade after I saw him originally play her (I did not see this Broadway incarnation), I still rave it’s one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Stephen Fry (the sullen and puritanical Malvolio) and Paul Chahidi (the scheming servant, Maria), while also very well-reviewed, can’t hold a candle to Rylance in this race.
Even so, Reed Birney can do no wrong, even if he hasn’t — yet — received as many accolades as Rylance. In Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, the seasoned actor plays Charlotte, a man who oversees an organization devoted to the rights of cross-dressers, provided they’re not actually homosexuals. As Fierstein is want to put it, Charlotte is the snake in the Eden for men who enjoy dressing as women. In any other’s hands, she would be the mustache-twirling — or in this case, wig-twirling — villain, but in Birney’s more-than-capable hands, Charlotte is a trans Bette Davis: ever in control and commanding, without once raising her voice or even a perfectly manicured hand (unless it’s to bring a cigarette slowly and deliberately to her lips). The only one on stage who’s not over-affected or playing for laughs (besides the wonderful Mare Winningham), he’s all the more fascinating to watch because of that steely delivery and cool, calm voice. It’s an unsettling and intricately detailed performance that dramatically elevates an otherwise average play.
As the one-time golden boy and Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie, Brian J. Smith is flat-out superb. Usually played as too-eager-to-please and rather clueless, Smith captures a reserved dignity that complicates the left-over ego of the high school has-been. In the incredibly intimate scene between him and Celia Keenan-Bolger’s Laura, he vacillates between the highs of illusions of grandeur and the lows of a bitter reality. His desire for both him and Laura to be positive people comes off as breathtakingly sincere, and even as he (too) willingly gives himself over to her heroic vision of himself, his recognition of his own dishonesty becomes as much of a heartbreak for him as it is for her. It’s a beautiful and devastating performance.