‘Disgraced,’ ‘Wolf Hall’ among Tony nominees for Best Play

This year’s Tony nominations are out and we’re revisiting two of the nominees. “Disgraced,” nominated for Best Play, examines questions of identity and Islam in America after September 11. “Wolf Hall,” which tells the story of King Henry VIII and his chief advisor, received eight nods. Jeffrey Brown looks at both of the acclaimed plays.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Finally tonight: Broadway honors some of its finest shows and performers. The Tony nominations were released today, with the musicals "An American in Paris" and "Fun Home" leading the pack with 12 nods each.

    Arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown has profiled several of this year's nominees, including "Disgraced," which is up for best play. It examines questions about identity and Islam in America after 9/11.

    Jeff spoke with playwright, Ayad Akhtar, about what he was hoping to convey to audiences.

    AYAD AKHTAR, Playwright, "Disgraced": There was a character who was speaking to me with this kind of relentless passion, Amir, the lead character in the play, who has this very particular point of view on Islam.

    He's Muslim birth — of birth and origin, but has sort of strongly moved away from it and is very critical of Islam. But I came to understand that what the play was really trying to get at was the way in which we secretly continue to hold on to our tribal identities, our identities of birth, of education, despite our — despite getting more enlightened.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    There's almost a suggestion that, whatever we do, our education, or our jobs, or our marriages, we can't — we never get past this kind of tribal allegiances.

  • AYAD AKHTAR:

    It — I didn't seem to be able to pull the play away from that conclusion. I tried.

    But these characters continued to find meaning and find some kind of safety as the situation, the dramatic situation devolved, in those tribal identities.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The play "Wolf Hall" picked up eight nominations, including best play and best costume design. It's based on a novel by British author Hilary Mantel, which tells the story of King Henry VIII and his chief adviser, Thomas Cromwell.

    And in addition to a play, the novel has been made into a "Masterpiece" miniseries on PBS.

    Jeff's piece on "Wolf Hall," in all its forms, aired earlier this month. Here's a portion of that.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The theater production also went for historical accuracy, from jewelry to the elaborate costumes, which took 25 seamstresses more than 8,000 hours to make.

    Mantel has worked closely with both productions, especially the play, including attending previews on Broadway, observing actor Ben Miles as Cromwell, and then giving notes and ideas to the director and cast.

    HILARY MANTEL, Author, "Wolf Hall": I don't think of the novels when I'm in the theater, but my mind is divided, because part of me is thinking, now, this scene is looking interesting tonight. What is the king going to do next?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Really? Even you're thinking that?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • HILARY MANTEL:

    I think that an imaginative writer for stage or novel has a — still has a responsibility to their reader, and that responsibility is to get the history right.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You want to do that?

  • HILARY MANTEL:

    Absolutely. That's the absolute foundation of what I do.

    I begin to imagine at the point where the facts run out. But, like a historian, I'm working on the great marshy ground of interpretation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Online, you can watch the complete interviews, plus Jeff Brown's chat with Elisabeth Moss, nominated today for best actress for her performance in "The Heidi Chronicles."

    That and more is on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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