'Oslo,' 'The Band's Visit' Take New York Drama Critics' Circle Honors

Left, courtesy of Ahron R. Foster, right, courtesy of T. Charles Erickson
'The Band's Visit' (left), 'Oslo'

The group's annual award for best play was an unusually close race, with strong support also for 'A Doll's House, Part 2,' 'Sweat' and 'A Life.'

In a repeat of the top prize winners from Sunday night's Lucille Lortel Awards, the New York Drama Critics' Circle on Monday voted to give its 82nd annual award for best play to J.T. Rogers' Oslo, and for best musical to The Band's Visit.

An intense yet warmly humorous chronicle of the nine months of secret back-channel talks in the Norwegian capital that yielded the short-lived 1993 Israel-Palestine peace agreement, Oslo premiered early last summer in Lincoln Center Theater's off-Broadway house before moving upstairs to the company's Broadway mainstage, where the political thriller reopened in April to stellar reviews. The production is nominated for seven Tony Awards, including best play.

The NYDCC voting for that top award, which carries a cash prize of $2,500, was unusually close this year, going to a second weighted ballot after no play drew a clear majority on the first vote. In the end, very few votes separated Oslo from the runners-up, Lucas Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2 and Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer winner Sweat, both of which are also top Tony contenders; and Adam Bock's A Life, which played a limited run off-Broadway earlier in the season.

By contrast, the group's optional award for best musical won an easy majority on the first round. Premiered at the Atlantic Theater Company in December and tipped for a Broadway transfer next season, The Band's Visit features a score by David Yazbek and book by Itamar Moses. Adapted from the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, the delicate chamber musical weaves an intoxicating story around the gentle culture clash of an Egyptian police band stranded overnight in a remote desert town in Israel.

Two top Tony contenders for best musical, Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, were ruled ineligible for NYDCC consideration, having been in the voting mix in previous years for their off-Broadway debuts. While the critics group has often awarded an additional prize for best foreign play, lack of support for a thin field this season led to that option not being exercised.

Special citations were awarded, however, to writer-performer Taylor Mac's epic sociopolitical pop-culture odyssey, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music; to director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and the ensemble cast of the recent Tony-nominated Broadway production of August Wilson's Jitney; and to Paula Vogel for career achievement as a playwright and longtime mentor to emerging playwrights, first at Brown and then since 2008 at Yale School of Drama. Vogel made her Broadway debut this season with Indecent, which is also among the Tony nominees for best play.

The NYDCC's current membership includes 22 drama critics from daily newspapers, magazines and websites based in the New York metropolitan area (including The Hollywood Reporter). The group's award for best new play of the season, first presented in 1936, is the nation's second-oldest theater award, after the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. This year's honors will be presented at a private cocktail reception on May 18.