2023 Tonys: Jodie Comer (‘Prima Facie’) could be the fifth Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Play winner from a one-woman show
Among this year’s acclaimed Tony Award contenders in the category of Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play is Emmy winner Jodie Comer, recognized for her startling performance in Prima Facie.
The one-woman play, in which Comer portrays a lawyer who defends men accused of sexual violence, only to find herself assaulted, has already scored a plethora of accolades for its star, including an Olivier Award for her turn in the West End production and nominations from the Drama Desk Awards, Drama League Awards and Outer Critics Circle Awards.
Should Comer emerge triumphant, she will join an elite group of actresses who have scored the Best Play Actress Tony for a solo performance.
Just last year, in 2022, Deirdre O’Connell took home the Tony for her turn as the titular role in Dana H., based on the devastating true story of a woman held captive for five months in Florida. O’Connell marked the category’s first winner from a one-woman show in more than three decades, following in the footsteps of Shirley Valentine’s Pauline Collins, who scored the prize in 1989. Her portrayal in the subsequent film adaptation would result in a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Collins just the following year.
Preceding Collins in 1986 was Lily Tomlin in her solo tour de force, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, and in 1977, the first winner from a one-woman show, Julie Harris as the iconic American poet Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst.
What are the odds Comer prevails, marking the fifth winner from a one-woman show? Let’s dive into the race for Actress in a Leading Role in a Play.
This year a four-nominee affair, the category sports a quartet of actresses who are no strangers to awards seasons, including an Oscar winner (Jessica Chastain in A Doll’s House), Emmy/Tony nominee (Jessica Hecht in Summer, 1976) and six-time Tony winner (Audra McDonald in Ohio State Murders).
While Hecht and McDonald scored raves for their turns, they mark the lone recognition for their productions. The last contender to score this Tony as the only nomination for her show was Glenn Close, winner of the 1992 Actress in a Leading Role in a Play prize for Death and the Maiden. It would mark a substantial upset should either of these performers prevail.
Ultimately, this looks to be a barnburner between Chastain and Comer.
In terms of overall Tony support, A Doll’s House has a slight edge over Prima Facie, with half a dozen bids, including Best Play Revival and Best Play Director. Prima Facie sports four nominations, including a trio in crafts categories, but notably missed in Best Play, perhaps indicative of soft support for the production itself.
Notably, Chastain’s role of Nora Helmer has gone 2-for-3 in Best Play Actress, scoring wins for Janet McTeer in a 1997 revival and Laurie Metcalf in 2017’s A Doll’s House, Part 2, with only Liv Ullmann in a 1975 revival coming up short. The only character to deliver more wins (three) in this category is the titular role of Medea. Moreover, not unlike her awards season efforts that resulted in an Oscar win, Chastain has been vigorously campaigning.
That isn’t to say, however, she necessarily has an edge over Comer.
While reviews for Prima Facie proved unanimously glowing, the reception for this revival of A Doll’s House has been a bit more polarized. And Comer’s Olivier Award win is a robust sign of strength. Should she take the Tony, she’ll emerge the sixth performer to date – following Jane Lapotaire (Piaf), Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine), Janet McTeer (A Doll’s House), Lindsay Duncan (Private Lives) and Helen Mirren (The Audience) – to score both the Tony and Olivier in Best Play Actress for the same turn. In a contest between these acclaimed, award-winning actresses, headlining a pair of critical and commercial successes, it’s tough to feel confident making a prediction. Either way, someone will be one step closer to their EGOT, with Chastain pairing her Oscar with a Tony or Comer doing the same with her Emmy. And that’s something we can all celebrate.
The American Theatre Wing’s 75th Annual Tony Awards will take place at United Palace in New York City on Sunday evening, June 11, 2023 and stream live at 6:30p ET on PlutoTV and 8p ET on CBS and Paramount+. The show will be hosted by Ariana DeBose and produced by Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner of White Cherry Entertainment.