Will Kathleen Turner ride ‘High’ at the Tony Awards?

Matthew Lombardo’s new play “High” opened on Broadway Tuesday to a range of reviews and producers posted a closing notice Wednesday. The drama centers on a tough-talking nun (Kathleen Turner) working as a counselor at an addiction center. Last season, Lombardo’s “Looped” depicted a dark day in the troubled life of Tallulah Bankhead. While that work also met with middling notices, star Valerie Harper did contend for the Best Play Actress Tony, losing to Viola Davis for the first rialto revival of 1987 Best Play champ “Fences.”

Recently, Turner has toured the country in another play about Bankhead titled “Tallulah.” Her most recent Broadway appearance was in the 2005 revival of Edward Albee‘s 1963 Best Play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Turner contended for the Best Play Actress award, losing to Cherry Jones who won her second Tony for her work in that year’s Best Play “Doubt.”

This time around, Turner’s performance earned more praise than the play. As Charles Isherwood (New York Times) noted, “when it is channeled through Ms. Turner’s sandpapery basso, sarcasm has a ferocious comic bite that makes the early innings of Mr. Lombardo’s improbable drama about faith, recovery and redemption crackle with lively humor. Biting into Sister Jamie’s mordant verbal assaults on a recalcitrant drug addict, all but smacking her lips like a gourmet savoring al dente pasta, Ms. Turner makes a feast of largely unexceptional dialogue.”

For AP critic Mark Kennedy, “the play is helped by two stunning performances — by Turner, who pretty much never leaves the stage, and Evan Jonigkeit, making his Broadway debut as the addict Cody. Watching these two angry, broken, world-weary animals circle each other is an uncomfortable pleasure.” And Joe Dziemianowicz (New York Daily News) thought, “Turner brings irresistible gusto to a star turn filled with virtues. Her work is credible, clean and honest. Even when ‘High’ isn’t.”

However, Terry Teachout (Wall Street Journal) remained unimpressed: “Ms. Turner’s Janie-One-Note performance is so thickly mannered as to suggest that the producers of “High” have engaged a Kathleen Turner robot instead of the real thing. She rattles off her lines in a hoarse, staccato baritone voice that sounds as if it had been brought into being through daily doses of Drano administered by mouth, and she never does anything that you can’t see coming several hundred miles away.”

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