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Tony Awards preview: What will win best play?

April 7, 2010 |  3:40 pm

Over the coming weeks, Gold Derby will present predix from leading experts for the top races at the Tony Awards. Ten productions are viable contenders for the four best play slots when nominations are announced May 4. Unlike recent Broadway seasons, this one has been distinctly American, with three Pulitzer-winning playwrights (Tracy Letts, David Mamet and Donald Margulies) back on the boards. Only two of these 10 plays are transfers from the West End and just one of those -- "Enron" -- is by a British playwright, albeit about a distinctly domestic subject. Even British bad boy Martin McDonagh has shifted his focus stateside for the first of his plays to premiere on this side of the Atlantic. 

"A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE" – Oscar champ Christopher Walken ("The Deer Hunter") garnered great reviews as a man searching for his missing hand in this dark comedy from Martin McDonagh. The English-born playwright has lost four times at the Tonys for works set in Ireland: "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" (1998), "The Lonesome West" (1999), "The Pillowman" (2005) and "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" (2006). But, hey, McDonagh has a nice consolation prize: an Oscar for "Six Shooter" (best live action short, 2005). Currently running; opened March 4.

Tony Awards Predict Broadway news

"COLLECTED STORIES" – Tony winner Linda Lavin ("Broadway Bound") stars as a respected writer battling a one-time protégé (Sarah Paulson) who has found fame by fictionalizing one of the older woman's love affairs. This work by Donald Margulies, first performed in New York in 1996, was a Pulitzer prize finalist the following year when no play was deemed worthy of the award. While this production could be considered a revival, the Tony administration committee may deem it eligible to contend as a new play because it has never been done on Broadway. That is what happened last year with Richard Greenberg's 1990 play "The American Plan" which did not land a nomination in the end. Margulies -- who won the Pulitzer in 2000 for "Dinner With Friends" -- has another play in the mix ("Time Stands Still") but this is the one that's currently running on Broadway. In previews; opens April 28.

"ENRON" -- This British import uses music, dance and video to tell the tale of the infamous financial scandal of 2001. Rupert Goold -- who won an Olivier for his original helming -- directs an American cast that includes Tony champ Norbert Leo Butz ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and three-time Tony nominee Marin Mazzie. "Enron" -- which lost the top Olivier  to "The Mountaintop" -- is only the second full-length play from Lucy Prebble, who also created the saucy TV series "Secret Diary of a Call Girl." In previews; opens April 27

"IN THE NEXT ROOM (OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY)" – This limited-run of a Lincoln Center production marked the Broadway debut for the prolific Sarah Ruhl who has written 10 plays in the last decade. Ruhl was a Pulitzer finalist in 2005 for "The Clean House" which lost to "Doubt" by John Patrick Shanley. This piece, about a 19th-century doctor who tries to cure a female's patient of hysteria by using a crude vibrator, starred Tony champs Michael Cerveris ("Assassins") and Laura Benanti ("Gypsy"). Closed Jan. 10.

"NEXT FALL" –  Elton John is one of the producers for this transfer of the off-Broadway hit hailed by the New York Times as a "smart, sensitive and utterly contemporary New York comedy (about a) gay couple wrestling with issues big enough to be called cosmic." This is the first play from actor Geoffrey Nauffts, best known till now for his regular role on TV's "The Commish." Currently running; opened March 11.

"RACE" – Tough-writing David Mamet tackles another four-letter word: race. This compelling drama is about a trio of lawyers -- three-time Emmy champ James Spader ("The Practice," "Boston Legal"), David Alan Grier and Kerry Washington -- who consider taking on the case of a rich white man (Emmy winner Richard Thomas, "The Waltons") accused of raping a black woman. Mamet won the Pulitzer in 1984 for "Glengarry Glen Rose" but lost the Tony that year to a Brit, Tom Stoppard ("The Real Thing"). Four years later, he lost his only other Tony race for "Speed-the-Plow" to "M. Butterfly" by David Henry Hwang. Two years ago, his savage political satire "November" was snubbed at the Tonys save for a featured actress bid by Laurie Metcalf. Mamet is also 0 for 2 at the Oscars, losing adapted screenplay races for "The Verdict" (1982) and "Wag the Dog" (1997). Currently running; opened Dec. 6.

"RED" – The first of Chicagoan John Logan's plays to make it to Broadway arrives as a transfer from London's acclaimed Donmar Warehouse. Two-time Tony nominee Alfred Molina plays American abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko who clashes with his uppity assistant (Eddie Redmayner, who just won the Olivier) as he plans the murals for the famed Four Seasons restaurant in New York. Logan is a two-time Oscar contender with bids for his original screenplays for "Gladiator" (2000) and "The Aviator" (2004) as well a 1999 Emmy nominee for "RKO 281." Currently running; opened April 1.

"A STEADY RAIN" – In a limited run last fall, Daniel Craig and Tony champ Hugh Jackman ("The Boy From Oz") earned socko reviews and boffo box office. In this two-hander, the Brit and the Aussie played Chicago cops dishing the dark sides of their work and family lives, but the play by newcomer Keith Huff got shot down by critics. Closed Dec. 6.

"SUPERIOR DONUTS" – Two years ago, actor turned playwright Tracy Letts won both the Pulitzer and Tony for his searing domestic drama "August: Osage County." However, the critics found plenty of holes in his follow-up play, with the New York Times deeming it "insubstantial and sweet, with virtually no nutritional value." This would-be comedy was about a white, 1960s radical (Michael McKean) working in a modern-day doughnut shop with a hip, young African American (Jon Michael Hill). Closed Jan. 3.

"TIME STANDS STILL" – The first of Donald Margulies' two plays to make it to Broadway this season was a Manhattan Theater Club production as is "Collected Stories." Indeed, this well-received work twice extended its limited run, pushing the opening of "Collected Stories" back to the cut-off date for Tony eligibility. Two-time Tony nominee Laura Linney got good notices as a photo-journalist clashing with her friends and lover when she returns to New York after surviving a bombing in Iraq. Two-time Tony nominee Brian d'Arcy James played her partner, while Pulitzer-nominated playwright and actor Eric Bogosian ("Talk Radio") and Alicia Silverstone co-starred as her one-time mentor and his much younger girlfriend. Closed March 27.

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Photos: Playbill covers. Credit: Playbill

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