'Ferryman,' 'Constitution,' 'Tootsie' Take New York Drama Critics Circle Honors

Ferryman-Constitution-Tootsie split - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Joan Marcus (2); Matthew Murphy

The group awarded special citations to Irish Rep on its 30th anniversary, to off-Broadway company Page 73 and to director Joel Grey's revival of 'Fiddler on the Roof' in Yiddish.

The 84th annual best play award of the New York Drama Critics Circle has gone to Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman, a vibrant portrait of a large farming family in rural Northern Ireland, set during the Troubles, when the long arm of violence intrudes on a joyous harvest celebration.

The London import currently is nominated for nine Tony Awards, including for best play, for Sam Mendes' direction and for lead actors Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly. It won the 2018 Olivier Award (the British equivalent of the Tonys) for best new play.

The Ferryman narrowly beat out writer-performer Heidi Schreck's What the Constitution Means to Me, a unique reflection — both intensely personal and civic-minded — on America's founding legal document and its impact on the women in Schreck's family, going back generations. 

As is traditional when the top NYDCC prize goes to a foreign play, the group votes on whether to give a separate award to the best American play. That option drew strong favor this year, with the prize going on a swift count to Constitution.

There had been disagreement among the group prior to Monday's voting meeting about whether to include Anais Mitchell's Hadestown in discussions of a best musical award. Some argued that the folk-opera retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth contained sufficient new elements on Broadway to give it fresh consideration, while others dug their heels in about its exclusion, given that the 2016 off-Broadway production had been eligible. The latter faction prevailed.

With Hadestown off the table, best musical went to writer Robert Horn and composer-lyricist David Yazbek's reimagining of the Dustin Hoffman comedy Tootsie, making this the first year in recent memory when all three top NYDCC wins have gone to Broadway shows. Tootsie is up for 11 Tony Awards, including best musical, score, book and lead actor Santino Fontana, while Constitution earned Tony noms for best play and for lead actress Schreck.

The critics group did vote, however, to acknowledge off-Broadway achievements in its special citations.

Those went to the Irish Repertory Theatre on its 30th anniversary, also in recognition of its current cycle of Sean O'Casey plays; to Page 73, a company that over the past 20 years has been instrumental in the discovery and nurturing of important new voices in American playwriting, giving such writers as Schreck, Clare Barron, Samuel D. Hunter and Quiara Alegria Hudes their first New York exposure; and to director Joel Grey's soulful revival of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, a surprise hit last summer at Lower Manhattan's Museum of Jewish Heritage that has since transferred to a commercial run.

Other plays that drew significant support in the NYDCC voting this year included Jackie Sibblies Drury's Pulitzer winner Fairview, Barron's Dance Nation, Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, Hunter's Lewiston/Clarkston and Tracy Letts' Mary Page Marlowe. Other musicals that figured strongly in the voting included Girl From the North Country, The Prom, last summer's Shakespeare in the Park presentation of Twelfth Night and Be More Chill.

Founded in 1935, the NYDCC currently comprises 19 theater critics from daily newspapers, magazines and websites based in the New York metropolitan area, including The Hollywood Reporter. This year's awards will be presented May 13 at a private reception.