Seeing double: Mary-Louise Parker and Sally Murphy could pull off Tony Awards first with dual nominations

Mary-Louise Parker could add a second Tony Award to her mantle this year to join her 2001 trophy for “Proof.”  After receiving rave reviews for her performance in “The Sound Inside,” industry watchers pegged her as the early Tony frontrunner for Lead Actress – Play. The only problem is that she will face stiff competition….from herself.

“The Sound Inside” marked the Broadway debut of the Pulitzer Prize finalist author Adam Rapp (“Red Light Winter”). Parker starred as college writing professor Bella, who lives a mostly solitary life. The only person she seems to have time for is the sole other character in the drama, Christopher (Will Hochman), one of her students. Bella brings the audience on an emotional journey as she deals with the emotional turmoil surrounding a cancer diagnosis. The hypnotic script gifted Parker with a meaty role (she never left the stage) full of dense language and complicated emotions.

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Critics fell over themselves in praise of the performance. Marilyn Stasio (Variety) declared that Parker “will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait.” David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter) claims she “is doing some of her best work in years,” as she “brings the understated vulnerability of a woman facing her own mortality with an almost frightening purposefulness that masks her fear.” Talk around the Rialto was that Parker had secured her place in the Tony race. Sure, it was way too early in the season to declare a frontrunner (“The Sound Inside” ran from October 17th to January 19th at Studio 54), but as Elaine May (“The Waverly Gallery”) showed the world last year: Tony voters will happily back a performance in a closed production if it’s just that good.

As award watchers like myself looked towards the spring to see what other women of Broadway could halt Parker’s path to victory, a surprise announcement came. Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse would reunite to recreate their award winning performances in Paula Vogel’s 1997 play “How I Learned to Drive.” Manhattan Theater Club presents the revival in the spring (the first time Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize winner will be featured on Broadway).

You might think that awards attention must therefore shift to the flashy spring show. After all, Parker already picked up an Obie Award and Lucille Lortel Award for the original Off-Broadway mounting of “How I Learned to Drive.” She picked up a Drama Desk nomination as well. But this isn’t the Oscars. Though it has never occurred before, there is currently nothing in the official Tony Awards rules that prevents an actor from scoring multiple nominations in a category. The Tony administration probably never considered it, because landing one Broadway gig in a season is tough enough. Landing two worthy roles, both of them leads, is quite a feat.

This year might prompt the Tony Administration to reconsider adding some fine print, as Parker isn’t the only woman who could pull off two nominations in the same category. Steppenwolf Theatre stalwart Sally Murphy has two chances for Featured Actress – Play nominations thanks to two Tracy Letts penned plays, “Linda Vista” and “The Minutes.” For now, her stellar and relatable portrayal of Margaret in “Linda Vista” seems like it has the rooting factor to go the distance. I can still hear the thunderous applause and cheers from audience members as she told off Ian Barford’s crusty, hapless suitor. But we will have to see how the industry reacts to her role in “The Minutes,” which is poised to be a big hit for the spring season. With a robust theater career in Chicago and New York, Letts’ plays could finally give the actress her first (and second) Tony nominations.

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Six previous performers have scored two acting nominations in the same year, but always in different categories. Amanda Plummer was the first in 1982 with nominations for “A Taste of Honey” (Lead Actress – Play) and “Agnes of God” (Featured Actress – Play). She won for the latter. Dana Ivey was nominated for “Heartbreak House” (Featured Actress – Play) and “Sunday in the Park With George” (Featured Actress – Musical) in 1984. Kate Burton was nominated for “Hedda Gabler” (Lead actress – Play) and “The Elephant Man” (Featured Actress – Play) in 2002. Jan Maxwell was nominated for “The Royal Family” (Lead Actress – Play) and “Lend Me a Tenor” (Featured Actress – Play) in 2010. Mark Rylance was nominated for Richard III (Lead Actor – Play) and “Twelfth Night” (Featured Actor – Play) in 2014. He won the Tony for the latter. And just last year, Jeremy Pope was nominated for his Broadway debut in “Choir Boy” (Lead Actor – Play) and again for “Ain’t Too Proud” (Featured Actor – Musical).

There is technically still time for the Tony Awards to institute a ruling against nominating a performer twice in a category. After all, the decision to increase all competitive categories to five nominees (as long as there are nine or more eligible contenders) was a late in the game decision revealed at the final eligibility ruling of the year. But should the rules remained unchanged, Parker and Murphy could pull off a Tony Awards first. The only issue with becoming the first double acting nominee in a single category, is also becoming the first ever actor to face the prospect of vote splitting with yourself!

Be sure to make your Tony nominations predictions today so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before the nominees are announced on April 28. And join in the thrilling debate over the 2020 Tony Awards taking place right now in our theater forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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