In a race that is becoming increasingly hard to call, two American plays, David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People” and Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “The Motherfucker With the Hat” and a pair of British plays, Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem” and Nick Stafford’s “War Horse,” are slugging it out for the Tony.
How have the playwrights been affected by the stiff competish?
Talk to them, and they say that from the moment the noms were announced May 3, they’ve been having a ball. Rescued from their computers and solitary lives as writers, Lindsay-Abaire and Guirgis, for example, have become bosom buddies since they’ve repeatedly been thrust together in a month-long orgy of award ceremonies, press lunches, photo ops and other promo events.
Butterworth, traveling to New York from his farmhouse in South West England to spend an overheated week promoting “Jerusalem,” instantly fit right in with the American scribes.
“War Horse” adaptor Stafford, on the other hand, is staying at home in Britain until the Tony presentation. He’s writing a play, “Jacob’s Death,” a screenplay, “The Long-Lost” and something to say at the Tonys, just in case.
“I shall prepare a speech,” Stafford says. “I shall have something written down. There are very good reasons I am not an actor or any sort of public figure!”
Regarding the Tony competish, he says, “We didn’t nominate ourselves, though I suspect we are delighted to have been nominated.”
Lindsay-Abaire sees the Tonys as nothing but a blast. “It’s not like we’re athletes competing in a race,” he says. “We’ve really bonded with each other, and hanging out with each other has been fun. If this is competition, it’s the most inactive competition known to man.”
Not only do the playwrights like each other, but they also have taken on the coloration of a mutual admiration society.
En route to a Wednesday matinee of “Good People,” Guirgis took the time to declare Butterworth’s “Jerusalem” “one of my most favorite shows I’ve seen in years.” Asked to name his favorite shows of the season, Lindsay-Abaire, a Tony voter, chose Guirgis’ “Hat” to head his personal list.
The “Good People” author additionally thought the revival of “The Normal Heart” had received “a staggering production. ‘Normal Heart’ and ‘Merchant of Venice’ were plays I thought I knew and knew what I thought about them, and both productions made me look at them in ways I had never considered, and there’s nothing more exciting.”
During his stay in Gotham, Butterworth attended another British import, Punchdrunk’s “Sleep No More,” a dimly lit environmental theater piece spread across six floors of a building in Chelsea that requires audiences to wear masks.
“It was amazing,” he declared.
While Butterworth, Guirgis and Stafford share the distinction of making Main Stem debuts with their Tony-nominated plays, Guirgis was the only first-timer to undergo a baptism by fire courtesy of the New York Post’s tart-tongued theater columnist Michael Riedel.
Taking “Hat” to task during its last week of previews, the newspaperman reported that no one was coming to see the play, co-star Chris Rock hadn’t spurred tix sales and the play was destined to become “the first high-profile casualty of the spring” unless it received rave reviews. Plus, Guirgis was so upset by events that he had taken to spending entire days in bed.
The foul-mouthed comedy-drama went on to earn a slew of critical hosannas, has done nearly SRO biz and extended its limited run.
Reminded of Riedel’s doomsday commentary, Guirgis chooses to take the high road.
“When you’re play is on Broadway, you’re fair game, and people can say whatever they want,” says the playwright,”and when we supposedly were on the verge of closing, we were really happy with the show. I’m glad that we got through it, but the lesson is par for the course. The next time something like that happens I won’t be surprised or shocked. The whole Broadway experience has been filled with a lot of learning lessons for me, and that was one of them.
“Imagine experiencing what we experienced at that time, and the show really did close! I can’t help wondering where I would be now. Who knows? I might even be in prison!”
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