Just as I did with the four musical acting categories, here are a quartet of performances on the play side that warrant consideration by the Tony Awards nominating committee, which is meeting Monday. Nominations for the 70th annual edition of the Tony Awards will be announced on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Sam Rockwell, “Fool for Love” – Best Actor (Play)
I never saw Sam Rockwell as a young Sam Shepard, but the actor used his chameleon-like powers to channel the actor/playwright’s aura. Rockwell perfectly balanced the absurdity and gravitas that define most of Shepard’s scripts. The actor has a natural charm and swagger, but was able to hide a danger underneath. With combined odds of 28/1, breaking into the crowded lineup of leading men is not likely. But in “Fool for Love,” Rockwell gave a thrilling and unnerving performance that proved he can excel at playing leading men.
Nina Arianda, “Fool for Love” – Best Actress (Play)
The only fault I could possibly find with Nina Arianda in “Fool for Love” is that she’s really far too attractive to play this woman who no one is supposed to want. It’s no matter though, because the Tony winner dug into a deep well of emotional turmoil to embody a deeply troubled woman. Her indecision, regret, yearning, and rage leapt forth and became personified with every slight movement. Arianda is so expressive that the entire character’s past painted on her face, like war paint for the battle at the heart of the play.
Robert Sella, “Sylvia” – Best Featured Actor (Play)
While the play itself has its share of issues, there is nothing to fault with Robert Sella’s comedic turn as several (male and female) characters. A gifted physical actor, Sella plunges himself into three small roles: a female psychiatrist, an overzealous dog owner, and an easily spooked socialite. Despite being the only cast member billed below the title, his wild transformations and scene chewing produced more laughs than did any of his more famous co-stars. It’s always a joy to watch a performer having fun on stage, and no one had as much of a ball this season as Sella.
Megan Hilty, “Noises Off” – Best Featured Actress (Play)
Singling out just one member of the stellar “Noises Off “ensemble seems an impossible task, but I dare say I have never laughed at a character more than Megan Hilty’s Brooke. The character is that of a horrendous actress, full of wooden arm gestures and canned responses. In addition to the running joke of losing her contact lens mid-line, Hilty adds her own flairs. Most notably, Brooke mouths the lines of her co-stars to catch her cue. When the show-within-a-show begins to fall off the rails, Brooke’s inability to deviate from her track generates some of the best sight gags in the production. The Tony voters could fill out this category with actresses from “The Humans” and “Eclipsed,” but Hilty’s performance is the gift that keeps on giving.