The first rialto revival of August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" was greeted by great reviews from many of the leading theater critics. Such good notices could put the play in the running for the Tony Award for best revival. The original 1988 production contended for best play, director, and four featured performances. However, the only win on Tony night was for featured actress L. Scott Caldwell as the kind-hearted landlady at the center of the action. "Joe Turner" lost the top race to David Henry Hwang's gender-bending "M. Butterfly." That defeat began a tragic, unending losing streak for August Wilson with the Tony Awards.
The playwright had picked up a 1985 Tony nod for his first play on Broadway — "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." While he lost that race to Neil Simon for "Biloxi Blues," Wilson won the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize two years later for "Fences. Though Wilson had written "Joe Turner" before "Fences," it did not make it to Broadway till 1988.
Both of those works, as well as "Ma Rainey," form part of Wilson's Pittsburgh cycle of 10 plays that examine the African-American experience over the course of the 20th century. "Joe Turner" takes place in 1911 and looks at the lives of freed slaves in the North.
Six more installments of the cycle would appear on Broadway in the following years and all would earn Tony nominations for best play, but none would win. (Only "Jitney" did not make it to Broadway.) The first of Wilson's plays to be revived on Broadway was, appropriately enough, "Ma Rainey" in 2003. But even with Whoopi Goldberg and original star Charles S. Dutton headlining, this revival did not earn a Tony nod.
When "Joe Turner" lost the best play race 21 years ago, another of the also-rans was "Speed-the-Plow," which was revived earlier this season to equally good reviews. That production made the headlines when Broadway newcomer Jeremy Piven bowed out of the show just weeks into the run citing mercury poisoning from overeating sushi as the reason. Tony voters may want to reward the producers of that show to compensate them for the loss of their leading man. "Plow" playwright David Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning "Glengarry Glen Ross" took the best revival Tony in 2005.
Three Tony-winning best plays were revisited this year in revivals that met with mixed reviews. All were notable more for the names appearing in them than the quality of the productions. Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" won at the very first Tonys in 1947. This second rialto revival featured paparazzi darling Katie Holmes in a supporting role. "A Man For All Seasons" took the top prize in 1962 but went unproduced again until three-time Tony champ Frank Langella dared to take on the role that won Paul Scofield both the Tony and the Oscar. And the first remounting of 1976 champ "Equus" stirred up notoriety with "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe stripping off.