Sat. Oct 24th, 2020

2019 Tonys: Are Joan Allen, Mercedes Ruehl and Robin de Jesus under the radar contenders?

The Tony Award nominations will be announced this Tuesday April 30th. Honoring the best of the 2018-2019 Broadway season, there are many shows that are coming into the nominations with a great deal of buzz and expectancy for nominations. Shows like Hadestown, The Ferryman, and To Kill A Mockingbird will most likely be the talk of nominations morning, but before then, we thought we would highlight some of the best performances of the year that have slipped under the radar and deserve just as much consideration.

Joan Allen as Ellen in Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery (photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

Joan Allen, The Waverly Gallery

A poster hung outside the John Golden Theater advertising for The Waverly Gallery stating that Joan Allen is one of the best actresses in the country. While it seems unlikely anyone would disagree, perhaps some may have forgotten just how phenomenal an actress Allen really is. After having a string of film and theater success in the 80’s and 90’s (including a Tony for Burn This, and Oscar nominations for The Crucible, Nixon, and The Contender) Allen has laid fairly low in recent years, doing the odd television or film job. Which makes her return to the stage in The Waverly Gallery all the more thrilling. As the exasperated daughter of Elaine May’s ailing matriarch, Allen is quietly devastating, revealing the deep pain of someone watching a loved one slowly slip away. She illuminates not only the sadness of watching their deterioration, but the shameful frustration of sometimes being annoyed by it. It’s a understated, tense, beautiful performance that reminds us that Allen is, yes, one of the country’s best actresses indeed.

Mercedes Ruehl and Michael Urie in Torch Song (photo: Joan Marcus)

Michael Urie/Mercedes Ruehl, Torch Song

A landmark play in the 80’s, Torch Song’s return to Broadway (after an Off-Broadway run) was critically lauded but failed to connect with large audiences, and closed early at the end of 2018. Which is a shame, because it boasted two of the strongest Broadway performances of the season. Michael Urie, continuing to prove he’s one of his generations finest stage performances, delivered a knockout tour-de-force, walking the tightrope between camp and gentle introspection. As his brass mother, Ruehl had arguably the toughest job in the show, trying to get the audience to sympathize with a woman who could never truly accept her son. Watching the two of them spar with one another will be a theatrical highlight for many years to come.

Kerry Washington (with Steven Pasquale) in American Son (photo: Peter Cunningham)

Kerry Washington, American Son

Lucky for us, Washington’s performance in American Son will be preserved by Netflix, after they announced they will be adapting the play into some sort of theatrical/TV movie hybrid. It’s safe to say that Washington’s fierce portrayal of a Florida mother trying to find her missing son will certainly be in consideration for television awards when released, but hopefully, the Tony voters will start the trend, because Washington’s performance was arguably the finest of her career. Hearing Washington utter the names of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and other young men who lost tragically their lives to police violence filled the audience with a painful silence is just one of the unforgettable moments Washington provided in the play.

Ethan Hawke, left, and Paul Dano in the Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of Sam Shepard’s True West at the American Airlines Theater (photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

Ethan Hawke, True West

Hawke followed up his critics awards fun for Paul Schrader’s True West starring opposite Paul Dano in a revival Sam Shepard’s True West. From the minute Hawke stepped onto the stage, he didn’t so much set off sparks as he did a four-alarm fire, screaming, yelling, and sometimes crawling his way around his character Lee’s damaged psyche.

Robin de Jesus (left) with Michael Benjamin Washington, Andrew Rannells and Jim Parsons in The Boys in the Band (photo: Joan Marcus)

Robin de Jesus, The Boys in the Band

Like Washington, larger audiences will be able to see de Jesus and his company of The Boys in the Band when they hit Netflix later this year in a Ryan Murphy produced film. While the rest of his starry cast included Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, and Andrew Rannells, it was de Jesus who quietly walked off with the show. Beginning as the comedic relief of the show, de Jesus delivers a moving monologue later in the show about a dentist he had a crush on as a young boy, showing us new depths in his character and the painful effects of budding sexuality quenched by repression.

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