Rave reviews for her performance in "Collected Stories" could win Linda Lavin her second Tony Award as best actress in a play. The revival of this 1997 Pulitzer Prize finalist from Donald Margulies stars Lavin as a respected writer battling a onetime protege (Sarah Paulson) who has found fame by fictionalizing one of the older woman's love affairs. Lavin, a longtime stage star before TV's "Alice" turned her into a household name, appeared opposite Samantha Mathis in a 1999 production of "Collected Stories" in Los Angeles, and the pair reunited in 2002 for a TV version that aired on PBS.
Lavin's strongest competition may well be three-time Emmy champ Laura Linney, who recently finished an acclaimed run in "Time Stands Still" -- a new play by Margulies -- at the same theater where "Collected Stories" just opened. Linney picked up the second of her two Tony noms in the lead actress category in 2005 for her performance in a revival of Margulies' "Sight Unseen." Her other bid was in 2002 for a revival of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible."
Lavin won her first Tony in 1987 for "Broadway Bound" by Neil Simon. (A rialto revival of that play starring three-time Emmy winner Laurie Metcalf was canceled earlier this season due to poor advance sales.) If Lavin prevails again this year, she would become the seventh woman with Tony bookends for leading performances in plays. Two actresses -- Zoe Caldwell and Jessica Tandy -- have three apiece while Julie Harris won a record five Tony Awards for her star turns in plays. Not surprisingly, Harris sits atop the nominations list as well, with nine bids. Angela Lansbury -- who has a record four lead musical actress Tonys -- won a fifth award last year for her featured performance in the play "Blithe Spirit" and might well break the tie with Harris this year with a win for her featured role in the musical "A Little Night Music."
Unlike the gallery of recent best actress Oscar champs, which looks like the lineup at a beauty pageant, the Tony winners in the equivalent race range in age. Recent winners have included Deanna Dunagan, 68 when she won for "August: Osage County" (2008); Vanessa Redgrave, 66 when she won for "Long Day's Journey into Night" (2004); and Judi Dench, 64 when she won for "Amy's View" (1999). At 72, Lavin would not be the oldest lead actress in a play winner, as Tandy was just two days shy of her 74th birthday when she won her third Tony in this category for "Foxfire" in 1983. Tandy is also the oldest winner of the Oscar for best actress, with her 1989 win for "Driving Miss Daisy" at age 80.Photo: "Collected Stories" playbill. Credit: Samuel J. Friedman Theater