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Tony-Nominated 'Testament' Bows Out Early

Despite landing a spot on the best play shortlist, Colm Toibin's theatrical monologue starring Fiona Shaw as the mother of Jesus will end its Broadway run on Sunday.
Fiona Shaw in "The Testament of Mary"
Paul Kolnick

NEW YORK -- Being passed over for a key Tony Award nomination often prompts a swift closing notice for commercially challenged productions on Broadway. But The Testament of Mary is pulling the plug just two weeks into its run even though it was named as one of four contenders for best play in Tuesday morning's nominations announcement.

An emotionally harrowing monologue by Irish writer Colm Toibin, the play stars Fiona Shaw as the mother of Jesus, reflecting with self-doubt, skepticism, anger and sorrow over her son's crucifixion, the events leading up to it and those that followed. The production is directed by Shaw's frequent collaborator Deborah Warner.

Originally scheduled to run through June 16 at the Walter Kerr Theatre, it will now close on May 5 after 27 previews and 16 regular performances.

In addition to Best Play, Testament was nominated for Tony Awards for lighting and sound design. However, the failure to secure nods for either Shaw or Warner was a fatal blow to a production that already had been struggling at the box office. Last week was the first in which grosses broke the $200,000 mark, registering houses at 76 percent capacity. Clearly, the producing team reasoned that without a crucial Tony nod for their star, business was unlikely to build.

Toibin's novella based on the same material was published late last year, generating ecstatic reviews for its audacious humanization of one of the most beloved figures in religious iconography. His theatrical version drew mostly positive reviews, though not the kind of unanimous raves required to sell such a challenging drama at a point of the Broadway season stacked with back-to-back openings.

The show represents a rare miss on Broadway for lead producer Scott Rudin, whose recent successes have included The Book of Mormon, the Mike Nichols revival of Death of a Salesman, and August Wilson's Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

Shaw was one of a handful of high-profile Tony shutouts on Tuesday from the best actress in a play race, arguably the most competitive field of this year's awards contenders. Also among surprise exclusions were Bette Midler in I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers, and Jessica Hecht in The Assembled Parties. Less unexpectedly, several starry names including Jessica Chastain in The Heiress, Katie Holmes in Dead Accounts and Scarlett Johansson in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof also were overlooked by the Tony nominating committee.

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