Marion McClinton, King Hedley II
For years, playwright August Wilson and director Lloyd Richards were a powerhouse team, developing the former's dramas at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, CT and then bringing them to Broadway, where almost nothing but acclaim followed. But a new century has brought Wilson a new teammate in Marion McClinton, who has directed, regionally, a production of nearly every drama Wilson ever wrote, including Seven Guitars, Two Trains Running, The Piano Lesson, Fences and Jitney. An associate artist at Baltimore's Center Stage and a veteran of such regional venues as Dallas Theatre Center and the Pittsburgh Public Theatre, McClinton has specialized in African-American related works (Les Blancs, Thunder Knocking on the Door, The Coming of the Hurricane), leading to two Audelco Awards, as well as Obie and Drama Desk honors.
Ian McElhinney, Stones in His Pockets
Though his name is likely to elicit blank stares from American theatregoers, Ian McElhinney's work has been a staple of Irish theatre for years, including half a dozen shows at the Abbey Theatre and mountings of Betrayal, A Doll's House and Aristocrats at the Gate. His work has also been seen in the UK at the RSC (Amphibians), Royal Court (Pygmies in the Ruins) and Lyric Theatre (Godot). On these shores, his one-man show, The Green Shot, played at the Kennedy Center. Recently, though, Stones in His Pockets has taken up most of his time, including the show's pre-Broadway stints in Toronto and San Francisco and separate stagings in Iceland and Sweden.
Jack O'Brien, The Invention of Love
From students and professors rowing and bicycling across the stage to back-and-forth leaps in time, Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love requires a sense of graceful motion that, by all accounts, Jack O'Brien has achieved. Artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego since 1981, O'Brien has staged a host of classics there, from Shakespeare to Chekhov to Ibsen, as well as the world premiere of Tina Howe's Pride's Crossing, which went on to play at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse space. No stranger to Tom Stoppard, O'Brien staged Hapgood at the aforementioned Newhouse; and no stranger to Tony hoopla, the director has already enjoyed one nomination, for Two Shakespearean Actors. O'Brien's in an unusual (and fortunate) position this Tony season: he's up for Best Director honors both in the play category (for Invention) and musical (for The Full Monty). Will he be as lucky as Michael Blakemore, who took home two Tonys for staging last year's Kiss Me, Kate and Copenhagen?
Daniel Sullivan, Proof
What Lloyd Richards had been to August Wilson, Daniel Sullivan has been to Wendy Wasserstein, staging her Heidi Chronicles, Sisters Rosensweig and American Daughter. But Sullivan's skills are prized by a host of American playwrights, from Herb Gardner (I'm Not Rappaport) to John Patrick Shanley (Psychopathia Sexualis) to Jon Robin Baitz (The Substance of Fire and the Broadway-bound Ten Unknowns). Artistic director of Seattle Repertory from 1981 97, Sullivan gave that up to balance directing commercial projects and to teach theatre at the University of Illinois.
Analysis: It's the year of Proof, so look for Daniel Sullivan's emotional-laden but understated staging of David Auburn's drama to win, alongside Mary-Louise Parker and the play itself. O'Brien has a shot, since The Invention of Love is a wordy, complex play that would likely be at sea without his delicately orchestrated direction. Had King Hedley II received universal raves, McClinton would also be a contender, but the play's been widely praised for its acting but knocked for its overtangled storyline, the assumption being that the director might have demanded more story-telling clarity from the author. Much as audiences and critics are enjoying Stones in His Pockets, that comedy is seen as rather lightweight, its effortless bouncing from character to character viewed more as the result of the skills of its two performers than the hand guiding them. — By David Lefkowitz