We timed this New York trip around the opening of two specific plays, Death of a Salesman and The Columnist. We were going to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman in this role regardless of the reviews. While initial reviews were tepid (portraying the production and the acting as more clinical than emotive, subsequent reviews have gotten much better). We did, however, wait for the reviews of The Columnist, before deciding between that and Gore Vidal’s The Best Man. While we would normally choose James Earl jones and Angela Lansberry (Best Man) over John Lithgow, modestly good reviews for each, forced us to choose: We selected The Columnist. Since we were coming to town anyway, we had time for one other show. Since we have already seen Nina Arianda’s wonderful performance in Venus in Fur, we decided to see another certain Best Actress nominee, Tracie Bennett, who portrays Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow.
Death of a Salesman. An amazing production of an amazing play. While Phillip Seymour Hoffman was certainly powerful as Willy, it almost seemed like he was working to sound like Dustin Hoffman in his 1984/85 Broadway and television portrayals. Linda Emond, as his wife Linda, and especially Andrew Garfield, as his elder son Biff, we’re extraordinary. Although I can’t think of it as a shoe-in for Best Revival before seeing its competitors, they will have to go a long way to match, much less beat such a powerful evening.
End of the Rainbow. A portrait of Judy Garland on her last concert tour, three months before her death of a drug overdose. Based on this portrayal, it is hard to believe she even lived to age 48. It’s also hard to believe that anyone could tolerate her, at least in private. Overall, a brutally frank, and incredibly powerful portal in which Tracie Bennett’s signing, as well as her acting, actually made you believe you were watching Judy Garland. Although we loved Nina Ariadna in Venus in Fur, Bennett’s performance was even more powerful. She also had the extra burden of portraying the voice and mannerisms of a person with whom we are all familiar—and boy, can she ever sing!
The Columnist. This profile of the political columnist Joseph Alsop seemed like a no-holds barred portrayal of an incredibly powerful political figure (whose home President Kennedy visited the night he was inaugurated) who helped shape the course of the Vietnamese War. But as John Lithgow portrayed quite well, power does not necessarily bring grace, humanity or certainly humility (except to his step-daughter). Although the play (written by David Auburn, who also wrote the intro quint play Proof) and the acting (for which Lithgow has been nominated for a Tony) were good, neither, in our mind, held a candle to those of the classic Death of a Salesman).
On the basis of all the Broadway plays we have seen for the year, our preferences for the primary Tony awards for plays (we haven’t seen any of the musicals) are:
- Best Play–Other Desert Cities over Venus in Fur and Clybourne Park, although we have not seen Peter and the Starcatcher;
- Best Revival—although we have seen previous productions of The Best Man, Master Class and Wit, we have not seen the current revivals. But, as mentioned above, Death of a Salesman will be awfully tough to beat;
- Best Leading Actor–While John Lithgow was good, Phillip Seymour Hoffman was great in a much more demanding role. Although we have not seen the other nominees, James Cordon is supposed to have done an amazing job in a very different type of demanding role.
- Best Leading Actress–although we thought Stockard Channing was very good, our money was on Nina Ariadna—until we saw Tracie Bennett. We have not seen the other nominees.
- Best Featured Actor–of the two we have seen, Andrew Garfield over Michael Cumptsy.
- Best Featured Actress–of the two we have seen, Linda Emond over Judith Light.
- Best Director—of the two we have seen, Mike Nichols over Pam MacKinnon.