Breaking Down the 2017 Tony Nominations — The Plays
By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, May 9, 2017
It’s been an especially good year for plays on the Broadway stage. As of this writing, we have five new plays running (Oslo, Sweat, Indecent, The Play That Goes Wrong, and A Doll’s House, Part 2) and five revivals of classic plays (The Little Foxes, Present Laughter, The Glass Menagerie, The Price, and Six Degrees of Separation).
This is rare situation, indeed, practically an embarras de richesses. Add this to the fact that there are 10 new musicals and four musical revivals running, not to mention the hits from previous season that are still running, and you have a crowded field indeed, so much so that the plays are struggling to gain a foothold at the box office.
Ticket sales for Oslo appear to be doing comparatively well, but most of the other new plays are really struggling, particularly Indecent, Sweat, and A Doll’s House, Part 2. Perhaps the Tony nods will give these plays the shot in the arm they need to have solid, profitable runs, or at least keep them running long enough to benefit from any Tony Awards they may garner.
So, how did the Tony nominators do with respect to recognizing what was genuinely good in plays this season? Read on for my unapologetically personal take on the play nominations.
- A Doll’s House, Part 2, Lucas Hnath
- Indecent, Paula Vogel
- Oslo, T. Rogers
- Sweat, Lynn Nottage
SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Heisenberg, The Play That Goes Wrong, The Present, Significant Other
TAKEAWAY: Pretty much spot-on here. The four nominated plays are all outstanding in their own ways. Indecent is intimate and intensely moving. A Doll’s House, Part 2 is ferociously smart and funny. Oslo is gripping and engrossing. And Sweat is an absolute tour de force of both drama and social observation. Of the shows that got left off the list, only Heisenberg seems like a significant slight. Perhaps the quiet, enigmatic two-hander by Simon Stephens, presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club in the fall, didn’t quite linger in the minds of the Tony committee, a body that has historically demonstrated a rather short collective memory.
Best Revival of a Play
- The Little Foxes
- Present Laughter
- Six Degrees of Separation
SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: The Front Page, The Price, The Glass Menagerie, The Cherry Orchard, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
TAKEAWAY: The omissions here aren’t really surprising at all. The Front Page was a huge hit with audiences, but not so much with the critics. The Price wound up being all about Danny DeVito. The Glass Menagerie was very polarizing, with many critics and audience members taking great exception to director Sam Gold’s decidedly minimalist take on the Williams classic. And both The Cherry Orchard and Les Liaisons Dangereuses were among the worst-received productions this season.
Best Actor in a Play
- Denis Arndt, Heisenberg
- Chris Cooper, A Doll’s House, Part 2
- Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation
- Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
- Jefferson Mays, Oslo
SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Mark Ruffalo, The Price; Gideon Glick, Significant Other; Joe Mantello, The Glass Menagerie
TAKEAWAY: The nominees here represent quite an impressive slate of performances, although Chris Cooper felt a bit under-energized to me. Among those overlooked, Ruffalo was a bit indistinct in The Price. Mantello received terrific notices for his layered performance as Tom in The Glass Menagerie, but the production left many people cold, which probably hurt Mantello’s chances of a nod. There has been a lot of indignation online about Gideon Glick being overlooked for his admittedly solid performance in Significant Other, but I remain among those who were thoroughly unimpressed by this play. (I found it whiny and shallow. Sue me.)
Best Actress in a Play
- Cate Blanchett, The Present
- Jennifer Ehle, Oslo
- Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie
- Laura Linney, The Little Foxes
- Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2
SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Allison Janney, Six Degrees of Separation; Mary-Louise Parker, Heisenberg
TAKEAWAY: On the one hand, it’s surprising to see Blanchett nominated here, as The Present was so poorly received. Then again, she’s Cate Frickin’ Blanchett. For my money, Laurie Metcalf is the one to beat here, as she’s an absolute powerhouse in A Doll’s House, Part 2. As for the omissions, Janney is probably the biggest surprise, as she received raves for her work in Six Degrees. Mary-Louise Parker was a bit polarizing in Heisenberg: some found her delightful, others grating.
Best Featured Actor in a Play
- Michael Aronov, Oslo
- Danny DeVito, The Price
- Nathan Lane, The Front Page
- Richard Thomas, The Little Foxes
- John Douglas Thompson, Jitney
SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Richard Topol, Indecent; Khris Davis, Sweat; Anthony Azizi, Oslo
TAKEAWAY: It’s a testament to the overall quality of male performances this season that three incredibly worthy performances didn’t make the cut. Richard Topol was a quiet, heartbreaking wonder in Indecent. Certainly not a showy performance, but a deeply affecting one. Khris Davis is smoldering in Sweat, deftly switching between time frames, portraying two sharply different times in his character’s life. And Anthony Azizi, while not quite as dynamic as Michael Aronov (it’s hard to believe anyone could be), is nonetheless at the very emotional core of Oslo, and an integral part of its success.
Best Featured Actress in a Play
- Johanna Day, Sweat
- Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll’s House, Part 2
- Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes
- Condola Rashad, A Doll’s House, Part 2
- Michelle Wilson, Sweat
SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Katrina Lenk, Indecent; Kate Burton, Present Laughter; Kristine Nielson, Present Laughter
TAKEAWAY: Again, an incredibly impressive array of nominees. But here, it’s a bit more understandable why these other women weren’t nominated. They’re all remarkably talented women, but these roles didn’t really show them to their best advantage. Katrina Lenk was far more dazzling in The Band’s Visit than in Indecent. Kate Burton is a national treasure in intensely dramatic roles, but in Present Laughter she’s sort of wasted as a foil for Kevin Kline. And Kristine Neilson was perhaps miscast as Kline’s long-suffering amanuensis. Among the actual nominees, I was thrilled to see Michelle Wilson nominated for Sweat. Johanna Day has been getting more attention for her wonderful work in that play, but I found Wilson’s performance to be just as powerful, if not more so.
Best Direction of a Play
- Sam Gold, A Doll’s House, Part 2
- Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jitney
- Bartlett Sher, Oslo
- Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes
- Rebecca Taichman, Indecent
SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Sam Gold, The Glass Menagerie; Kate Whoriskey, Sweat; Trip Cullman, Six Degrees of Separation
TAKEAWAY: An impressively strong slate of directors, from old pros (Daniel Sullivan, Bartlett Sher) to Broadway directorial neophytes (Rebecca Taichman, Ruben Santiago-Hudson). Among those omitted, the most disappointing is Kate Whoriskey for Sweat. Seeing Sweat is like taking a punch to the gut, and so much of that power comes from Whoriskey’s sensitive yet unflinching direction. It’s a real shame to see her passed over for her genuinely powerful work here.
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Cover: Chris Cooper and Laurie Metcalf in ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2;’ photo: Brigitte Lacombe