“Slave Play” made history back in October when it received 12 Tony Awards nominations, the most ever for a play. Five of those citations recognize members of its stellar ensemble, including a bid in Actress, two in Featured Actor, and two in Featured Actress. While “Slave Play” is the frontrunner for Best Play according to our exclusive Tony Awards predictions, none of its cast will likely take home trophies. But could an upset be looming?
Though it seems counterintuitive that Tony voters would award a play the top honor without recognizing at least one of its performers, it has happened six times in the past 20 years, including the two most recent. In 2019, Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman,” an expansive family drama about The Troubles in Ireland, won the top prize and trophies for Director (Sam Mendes), Scenic Design, and Costume Design, but didn’t pick up awards for its three nominated performers: actor Paddy Considine, actress Laura Donnelly, and featured actress Fionnula Flanagan.
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A similar scenario played out the year before when “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” won Best Play and five other Tonys, but didn’t nab a single acting prize. Just like “Ferryman,” “Harry Potter” earned three bids for its performers – Actor (Jamie Parker), Featured Actor (Anthony Boyle), and Featured Actress (Noma Dumezweni) – but its ensemble left empty-handed. Other Best Play recipients without corresponding acting wins include Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (2013), Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park” (2012), “War Horse” (2011), and Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” (2002). Of this list, “War Horse” is the only winner that didn’t even score an acting nomination.
Far more often than not, then, the Best Play winner does take home at least one acting trophy. Nine Best Plays in the past 20 years have received one acting win, including “Oslo” for Michael Aronov (2017), “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” for Alex Sharp (2015), “All the Way” for Bryan Cranston (2014), “Red” for Eddie Redmayne (2010), “God of Carnage” for Marcia Gay Harden (2009), “I Am My Own Wife” for Jefferson Mays (2004), “Take Me Out” for Denis O’Hare (2003), “Proof” for Mary-Louise Parker (2001), and “Copenhagen” for Blair Brown (2000).
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Even less frequently, the Best Play winner has claimed two acting trophies, which has only happened in five of the last 20 years. Those noteworthy works include “The Humans” for Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell (2016), “August: Osage County” for Deanna Dunagan and Rondi Reed (2008), “The Coast of Utopia” for Billy Crudup and Jennifer Ehle (2007), “The History Boys” for Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour (2006), and “Doubt” for Cherry Jones and Adriane Lenox (2005).
These stats shouldn’t prompt too many last-minute predictions switches, though, in part because four of the five “Slave Play” nominees compete against each other. Annie McNamara and Chalia La Tour are both nominated in Featured Actress, where the lack of a consensus choice between them will likely pave the way for Lois Smith (“The Inheritance”) to prevail. Ato Blankson-Wood and James Cusati-Moyer face the same situation in Featured Actor, where the majority of our users expect David Alan Grier (“A Soldier’s Play”) to pull off his career-first victory. The show’s best bet, then, is for the excellent Joaquina Kalukango, who will give the category frontrunner Mary-Louise Parker (“The Sound Inside”) a run for her money. If there will be a major upset on Tony night, look for it in this nail-biter of a race.
PREDICT the 2021 Tony winners through September 26
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