With Tony nominations just around the corner, we have recapped this season’s plays.
For drama, it’s been hard to compete with the news cycle over the past year. But the 2016–2017 Broadway season brought a number of new plays and revivals that, though conceived before the events that now preoccupy pundits took place, could seem uncannily topical. While classics such as Arthur Miller’s The Price and August Wilson’s Jitney (in its Broadway premiere) took on added resonance and poignance, latter-day writers tackled more recent developments and enduring challenges with wit and compassion, promising some tight races when Tony Award nominations are announced May 2.
Lynn Nottage is one of two female Pulitzer Prize–winning playwrights who made Broadway debuts this spring. Nottage’s Sweat, which has already earned her a second Pulitzer, is set in a depressed factory town in the early 21st century and looks at the betrayal of American dreamers and workers in the postindustrial era, offering a refreshingly nuanced study of interracial tension and camaraderie. Indecent, a play with music by Nottage’s fellow acclaimed veteran/Broadway newbie Paula Vogel, unfolds over the first half of the 20th century, but in focusing on an enduringly controversial Yiddish play— with a love scene between two women — Vogel and cocreator/director Rebecca Taichman explore, with Brechtian fervor, such timely dilemmas as anti-Semitism, homophobia, and xenophobia, as well as the risks of artistic expression.
Broadway bows by notable writers have also included Significant Other, Joshua Harmon’s sharp-eyed, tender-hearted account of millennial angst centered on a young gay man (more conventionally a supporting character) struggling to find love as his female buddies pair off. And J.T. Rogers’s Oslo, which traces the back-channel negotiations between Israel’s government and the Palestine Liberation Organization that led to 1993’s Oslo Peace Accords, reminds us of the value of seeking common ground at a time when our own political parties can appear hopelessly polarized. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time playwright Simon Stephens’s Heisenberg has another unlikely connection, between a man in his seventies and a mysterious younger woman, at its core.
Others found inspiration in past masters. The Present was adapted from an early Chekhov work by Andrew Upton (husband of Cate Blanchett, who starred in the production). The soon-to-open A Doll’s House, Part 2, by Lucas Hnath, spins Ibsen’s proto-feminist, humanist vision forward. Director Sam Gold culled maverick performances from Sally Field and Joe Mantello for his stripped-down, psychologically charged take on The Glass Menagerie. And new productions of The Cherry Orchard, The Little Foxes,Six Degrees of Separation, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses, like the Miller and Wilson revivals, provided context for current discussions about race and gender, love and money, and, of course, family dysfunction.
On a lighter note, the season delivered new stagings of The Front Page and Present Laughter, vehicles for the great comedic gifts of, respectively, Nathan Lane and Kevin Kline. Original comedy arrived via England, with the riotous, Olivier Award–winning The Play That Goes Wrong, and Comedy Central star Nick Kroll and conspirator John Mulaney reintroduced a beloved pair of quirky Upper West Siders in Oh, Hello on Broadway. So even if you can’t laugh at the news anymore without feeling guilty, Broadway provided relief, along with plenty of food for thought.
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