Tough choices for the Tonys
A year of strong dramas, tragedies, and farce made for a tight race.
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Eugène Ionesco's absurdist comedy "Exit the King" is yet another of the season's explorations of humanity's often futile search for meaning and joy amid a cruel and unforgiving world. This one revolves around a long-serving megalomaniacal monarch whose incompetence and neglect has left his country in near ruins. Told by his wife and doctor that he will die soon, the king uses every tactic at his disposal to keep the Grim Reaper at bay, clinging to his existence with desperate lunacy. Even though the acclaimed production was overlooked for Best Play Revival, Geoffrey Rush is the favorite for Best Actor, thanks to an unforgettable performance that locates the dark truth beneath the raucous farce.Skip to next paragraph
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Another black comedy, Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage," about the more muted existential crises churning away in an urban middle-class milieu, skewers the hypocrisies and pretenses of the bourgeoisie. The action revolves around two couples negotiating a truce after one of their sons engages in a playground beat-down of the other, with the play unmasking the cruel, primal impulses beneath seemingly civil society. With its starry, pitch-perfect ensemble (Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels, and Hope Davis) chewing the scenery, "Carnage" has become a must-see show and is the front-runner for Best Play. Despite the uproarious mayhem, Reza's satire doesn't penetrate that deeply, especially since she's given herself four already wobbling targets to shoot down.
The best new play of the season is Neil LaBute's "Reasons to Be Pretty," which dissects with unflinching clarity (and compassion) the breakdown of a relationship and the education of a well-meaning but insensitive Everyman.
LaBute's plays and films are populated with the kind of ruthless narcissistic creatures who seem to revel in their bad behavior. However, first with "Fat Pig," then "Reasons to Be Pretty," our modern misanthrope has traded his sadism for a healthy dose of compassion and empathy for the messed-up souls at the heart of his plays.
Despite the resonance of "Reasons to Be Pretty," the late playwright Horton Foote may be the sentimental favorite to steal away the Best Play prize for his drama, "Dividing the Estate," which focuses on a fading, old-money Texas clan melting down over a family inheritance that they've nearly bled dry.
Even the musicals competing for the top Tonys reflect today's rueful, contemplative zeitgeist. While several high-gloss spectacles of the glitzy, overcooked variety found their way to Broadway this season ("Shrek: The Musical," "9 to 5"), the most remarkable ones tapped into the spirit of the times with moving, melancholy stories grounded in real emotion and character.