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Why the Tony Awards love the world's worst mama

June 15, 2008 |  7:45 pm


If you haven't seen best play winner "August: Osage County," let me explain to you why the Tonys audience exploded with approval when Deanna Dunagan won best actress. We all knew that victory was coming. It was one of the big gimmes of the night. Her performance as a pill-popping, chain-smoking, wise-cracking monstrous mama is what makes the best new play on Broadway so dazzling. But Dunagan also infuses the role with heartfelt humanity and a mama's real love when her family falls apart around her in the aftermath of her hubby's disappearance and widely suspected suicide.

As the ultimate mother from hell, Dunagan bested her costar and stage daughter Amy Morton among others to win. The last lead actress champ to edge out her costar was Madeline Kahn over Jane Alexander for a kindlier family play, "The Sisters Rosensweig" in 1993.

In the press room, the veteran actress explained why today marked her final performance (for a while) in the three-and-a-half hour play, which took five Tonys tonight. "For a woman of a certain age, it is not as easy as it once was," she said with a wry smile. While Dunagan will be taking the summer off, she will be joining the rest of the company to take the show to London in the fall. Having begun with the play last summer in Chicago, she said, "This whole year has been astonishing. After 34 years in regional theater, I never thought about opening on Broadway." And as for her performance today, she said, "it was very difficult. There were many tears on the stage and not always at the most appropriate time. I had to let the tears roll down my face."

(L.A. Times photo by Tom O'Neil)