Each of the five Tony nominees for Best Featured Actress in a Play plays a woman who has reached a crossroads in relationships with family or community. Sarah Greene as Helen confronts her true feelings for The Cripple of Inishmaan. Celia Keenan-Bolger in The Glass Menagerie retreats from her mother and brother into a delusional world. Anika Noni Rose and Sophie Okonedo of A Raisin in the Sun encounter economic and emotional crises in their shared Chicago flat. Casa Valentina’s Mare Winningham finds she isn’t quite as understanding of her cross-dressing husband as she thought. As with many other categories this year, there is no frontrunner and each candidate is worthy of praise.
The Cripple of Inishmaan
Irish actress Sarah Greene brings fiery life to Helen McCormick, the red-headed beauty who becomes the unlikely love object for Billy, the title character in The Cripple of Inishmaan played by Daniel Radcliffe. Nicknamed Slippy Helen for loose morals and her habit of dropping (or throwing) eggs, she maintains an aggressive attitude towards the men of her isolated island community. But she torments Billy because of his physical handicaps. Greene not only makes Helen wildly funny, but exposes the insecurities beneath her rough exterior.
The Glass Menagerie
The introverted Laura Wingfield is a far cry from the tomboyish Molly in Peter and the Starcatcher, the Peter Pan prequel for which Celia Keenan-Bolger received her last Tony nomination. While Molly bravely fought pirates, Laura lives in a make-believe world of glass animals. Keenan-Bolger makes that world a very real place and a welcome alternative to the drab environment of her St. Louis tenement apartment. She was also Tony nominated for her Broadway debut in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and received a Drama Desk nomination for the 2006 revival of Les Misérables.
Anika Noni Rose
A Raisin in the Sun
As the rebellious daughter Beneatha in Lorraine Hansberry’s classic 1959 drama, Anika Noni Rose matures from bratty child to questing adult. In an early scene, Beneatha defiantly rejects her mother’s faith and receives a slap. Later she explores her African roots thanks to an exchange student Joseph Asagai. Then, after the family has lost thousands of dollars in insurance money, she realizes she must continue pursuing her dreams of medical school despite the setback. Rose skillfully details every step of the emotionally fraught journey. She won a Tony in 2003 for a similar role in Caroline or Change as a child questioning her mother’s authority.
A Raisin in the Sun
Kenny Leon’s new staging of A Raisin in the Sun opens on a memorable image — Sophie Okonedo as Ruth standing center stage in a tenement kitchen, looking exhausted. An alarm clock pierces the silence and another day of drudgery for the Younger family has begun. Okonedo, an Oscar nominee for Hotel Rwanda, eloquently embodies Ruth’s anger with her dead-end situation and her strained relationship with her equally frustrated husband Walter Lee, played by Denzel Washington. Then when it seems the family will able to move to a house, her joy at having a bathroom she doesn’t have to share with other tenants is unbounded.
Talk about your understanding spouses. In Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, Mare Winningham plays Rita, the only g.g. (genuine girl) in a Catskills vacation colony for heterosexual men who prefer to dress as women. She’s married to George, the owner and hostess. Winningham warmly displays Rita’s compassion and empathy for her husband and guests, but when an ugly incident threatens this gender-bending Eden, the cracks in her composure begin to show. Though this is her first Tony nomination, Winningham is an Oscar nominee for Georgia and a two-time Emmy winner for the TV-movies Amber Waves and George Wallace.