New York Drama Critics Circle snub Tony Award contenders to name 'The Orphans' Home Cycle' best play
For the second year in row, the New York Drama Critics Circle spurned all the Broadway fare to find the winner of their best play award. (Here is a ballot-by-ballot breakdown of the voting.) This year's champ is the last work from the late Horton Foote, a three-part nine-hour opus dubbed "The Orphans' Home Cycle." While this trilogy is set to come to Broadway in the fall, it is just completing a run off-Broadway at the Signature Theatre.
Last year, the Circle -- which is comprised of critics from Gotham-based newspapers and magazines (with the exception of the New York Times) -- went with "Ruined" by Lynn Nottage. That Manhattan Theatre Club production had won the Pulitzer Prize for drama earlier in the season.
Usually, if an American play is chosen as the best of the year, then there is also an award for the top foreign play. Last year, the Circle selected Gregory Burke's "Black Watch" about Scottish soldiers under fire in Iraq for that honor. This year, they opted not to bestow that prize.
Likewise, the 19 critics in the Circle did not deem any musical worthy of the win. Last year, their choice was "Billy Elliot" which went on to win 10 Tony Awards, including best musical. This is the fourth time in nine years that there was no top tuner award.
Lincoln Center Festival was cited for its visionary international programming as was actress Viola Davis for sustained achievement while Annie Baker earned a citation as emerging artist for "Circle Mirror Transformation" and "The Aliens." The awards will be presented at a cocktail reception May 10 at the Algonquin Hotel, where the NYDCC was founded in 1935.
"The Orphans' Home Cycle" was the most ambitious work of Horton Foote's nearly seven-decade writing career. He was still tinkering with this trilogy of plays set in the fictional version of his hometown of Wharton, Texas, when he died at age 92 in March 2009. During his lifetime, Foote won every major writing award with two exceptions: one was best play from the New York Drama Critics Circle and the other was the Tony Award.
While Horton Foote turned out more than 60 plays -- beginning with the one-act "Wharton Dance" in 1940 -- only eight of them played on Broadway and none of these lasted more than a few months. Last year, the Lincoln Center production of "Dividing the Estate" did contend for top play at the Tony Awards but lost to "God of Carnage." His only other Tony nomination came in 1997 for "The Young Man From Atlanta." While he was bested by Alfred Uhry for "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," Foote did win the Pulitzer Prize for "Atlanta."
For his screen adaptation of the best-selling Harper Lee novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," Foote won at the Oscars in 1962. That hit movie earned eight Oscar nominations in all, including best picture. And leading man Gregory Peck finally triumphed with his fifth lead actor bid. The role of Atticus Finch would come to define the actor to generations and topped the 2003 AFI list of screen heroes.
In 1983 Horton Foote won a second Oscar, this time for his original script for "Tender Mercies." That film starred Robert Duvall, who had made a memorable screen debut as Boo Radley in "Mockingbird." Duvall won the lead actor Oscar on the fourth of six nominations. Two years later, Foote adapted his 1953 play "A Trip to Bountiful" for the big screen. While he lost this writing race to Kurt Luedtke, who adapted various works for best pic "Out of Africa," the film's star Geraldine Page finally prevailed as lead actress after seven losing bids in both lead (3) and supporting (4) categories.
Horton Foote also had a successful career in the early days of television. His adaptation of the William Faulkner story "Old Man" for "Playhouse 90" earned him an Emmy nomination in 1959 but he lost to James Costigan for his original teleplay "Little Moon of Alban." However, Foote did win the Emmy Award for the 1997 "Hallmark Hall of Fame" remake as well as the Humanitas prize. Among his other laurels, Foote also won the WGA award for each of his Oscar-winning screenplays. And he won the Indie Spirit award for his "Bountiful" script.
Top photo: "The Orphans' Home Cycle" playbill. Credit: Signature Theatre
Bottom photo: Horton Foote at the Booth Theatre on Broadway before a matinee of his play "Dividing the Estate." Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times.