snubbed again

b_tonyawardAll awards are subjective, let’s face it. And within the very small community which bands together to create what we commonly refer to as Broadway, they’re even more so. The nominating committee for the Tony Awards, whose nominations were announced yesterday, is made up of just forty-two theatre professionals – almost 850 people vote for the eventual winners – and if anybody told you they didn’t have an agenda or axe to grind, well, they’d be lying. Plus, there are the commercials interests of The Broadway League, the national trade organization for Broadway theater producers, general managers, theater owners, and presenters in over 250 theaters across America, to take into account. The Tony Awards are a joint venture of the League along with the American Theatre Wing, a non-profit organization which first created the awards to recognize excellence and now mostly supports education in the arts. So, while the theatre-going public might consider The Tonys to be the Oscars of live theatre, critics have long suggested they’re primarily a promotional vehicle for a few large production companies and theatre owners with an interest in getting prime-time exposure for their soon-to-touring productions. Me, I have no axe to grind; except that I – along with Bette Midler, Fiona Shaw, Seth Numrich, Alec Baldwin, Christine Jones, Yvonne Strahovski, John Logan, Joe Mantello, Sigourney Weaver, Doug Wright, and ‘Hands On A Hardbody’ - was snubbed once again. But the moral of the story: take the Tony Awards with a healthy dose of salt. We all know the biggest honor comes from simply being in the arena.

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at the theatre: vanya & sonia & masha & spike

vanya & sonya & masha & spike

You never know with playwright Christopher Durang. His plays often straddle a murky line between incisive satire and puerile humor. But like the best novels of Kurt Vonnegut, when he’s at the top of him game his seemingly simple, zany stories betray the existential angst and simmering fear brewing beneath the calm, clean surfaces of modern life.  So I am overjoyed to report through tears of laughter that his latest confection, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, now on Broadway in a pitch-perfect production at the John Golden Theater, is a return to frolicsome – and forbidding – form. A mash-up of characters and plot threads from Anton Chekov’s four major works – Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, The Seagull, The Cherry Orchard – the play revolves around Vanya and Sonia (David Hyde Pierce and a luminous Kristine Nielsen), a brother and sister left to tend the family estate – and their dying parents – in Bucks County, PA, while their glamorous sister Masha (Sigourney Weaver) finds fame and fortune in Hollywood. A surprise visit from Masha, with her 20-something boy toy Spike in tow (the ridiculously fit and spectacularly undressed Billy Magnussen) throws the normally placid household into chaos – not least of all due to the prophecies belched out by the cleaning woman, appropriately called Cassandra (a very funny Shalita Grant), and the arrival of a lithesome young neighbor named Nina, who curiously enough wants to be an actress. In less-skilled hands this could have easily devolved into an extended SNL skit but Durang and director Nicholas Martin make sure that throughout their frothy mix of lust, rivalry, regret and ridiculousness there is a palpable awareness of the human condition, making Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike a romp the likes of which I think even Mr. Chekov would laughingly approve.

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