For the last three years running at the Tony Awards, one of the five Best Actress in a Play nominees reaped her bid for a closed production. Last year, Laurie Metcalf earned her third Tony nomination although her show “Misery” had closed almost three months prior to the nominations. In 2015, Ruth Wilson garnered her first Tony recognition for “Constellations,” which played its last performance a month and a half before nominations were announced. And in 2014, Cherry Jones contended for her performance in “The Glass Menagerie,” which similarly shuttered two months ahead of the nominations.
This year, two top contenders in the category are in similar situations: Mary-Louise Parker for the new, two-hander “Heisenberg” penned by Tony-winner Simon Stephens (“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”), and Cate Blanchett for a new adaptation of Anton Chekov’s shelved work “Platonov,” written by her husband Andrew Upton and now titled “The Present.” While both actresses have the disadvantage of their shows no longer running, their performances received such acclaim that they’re still in the Tony conversation.
In “Heisenberg,” Parker starred as Georgie, a charming, but often dishonest, woman who changes the life of a strange, the lonesome butcher Alex (Denis Arndt), when she inexplicably kisses him on the back of his neck at a busy train station in London. Parker earned rave reviews when the play opened in October 2016, with Ben Brantley (New York Times), for example, exclaiming that she was “giving her best stage performance since her Tony-winning turn… in ‘Proof,’ 16 years ago.” In addition to the raves Parker received, the play also received excellent reviews, with Mark Kennedy (Associated Press) calling the play “as sumptuous an experience as theater gets.”
Blanchett made her Broadway debut in “The Present” portraying Anna, a perennially bored, financially floundering widow who uses the occasion of her 40th birthday party to both find a rich bachelor to marry and drum up some unadulterated entertainment in her otherwise dull existence. Although critics loved Blanchett’s performance, with Marilyn Stasio (Variety), for example, praising her as a “glorious example of profound Chekhovian ennui” and a “consummate comic actress,” they were quite mixed on the play itself, with David Cote (Time Out New York) giving it only two of five stars and deeming it “alternately tedious and odious.”
Of the two actresses, neither seems to have a significant upper-hand in the contest for a Best Actress nomination. The Broadway community clearly loves Parker, who won the Tony in this category in 2001 for “Proof” and has two other nominations (“Prelude to a Kiss,” “Reckless”) over the course of her career. The nominating committee may wish to welcome her back to the Tony derby after her 12-year absence. The small scale of “Heisenberg” also works to her advantage, with Parker sharing the stage with only Arndt and appeared in almost every second of the tight 80-minute run time. “Heisenberg” closed in the middle of December 2016, though, so the show and Parker’s performance may now only be a distant memory.
Blanchett had never appeared on Broadway before “The Present,” so the nominating committee may jump at the opportunity to embrace the two-time Academy Award winner (“The Aviator,” “Blue Jasmine”). “The Present” ran through the middle of March 2017, so the production may also be fresher in their minds than “Heisenberg.” Unlike Parker, though, Blanchett had to share the stage with a dozen other cast members, which may have diminished her spotlight.
With such stellar reviews for their performances, could both Parker and Blanchett earn nominations on Tuesday morning? The last time that two slots went to performances from closed productions was 2013, when Metcalf (“The Other Place”) and Amy Morton (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”) both earned bids. If that occurs, which actress from a currently-running show misses out? According to Gold Derby’s current combined odds, Metcalf (“A Doll’s House Part 2”), Allison Janney (“Six Degrees of Separation”), Laura Linney (“The Little Foxes”), and Sally Field (“The Glass Menagerie”), all currently performing on Broadway in their respective shows, will join Blanchett in the final line-up, with Jennifer Ehle (“Oslo”) in sixth position, just ahead of Parker.
Should one of those women miss out, it’ll probably be Field, who’s starring in a divisive new mounting of “The Glass Menagerie.” Sometimes the prestige of a marquee name alone doesn’t translate to a Tony nomination (think Denzel Washington for the recent revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” Michelle Williams in the remounting of “Cabaret,” and Al Pacino for both “Glengarry Glen Ross” and last year’s “China Doll”).
Regardless of whether Parker or Blanchett land a nomination, a victory looks to be out of the question. Although Metcalf, Wilson, and Jones all broke into the category in recent years, none of them won, losing to Jessica Lange (“Long Day’s Journey into Night”), Helen Mirren (“The Audience”) and Audra McDonald “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”) respectively.
Be sure to make your Tony Awards predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our Tony odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on May 2. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Tony Awards taking place right now in our theater forums.