Given annually, the Monte Cristo Award recognizes a theater artist's distinguished career and outstanding achievements.
"I realize I must be getting older because in the last few years, I have received a couple of Lifetime Achievement Awards," said Lane in a speech at the Edison Ballroom in New York where the event took place. "I guess this is what happens when you’ve been acting on stage this many years. But it is a little disconcerting. It’s not because I’m don’t appreciate the gesture, but as Hillary Clinton might say, ‘I’m not quite done yet.’"
Patrick Page, Susan Stroman, Matthew Broderick Among Guests as Nathan Lane Is Honored With Monte Cristo Award
Lane also discussed his recent starring role in The Iceman Cometh, revived Off-Broadway at BAM and at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. "It was the high point of my acting career, and for that, I am forever grateful. O’Neill has got his hooks into me, and he won’t let go."
The award was presented to Lane by O’Neill Trustee and actor Dennehy, who starred alongside Lane in Iceman. "I was there for every performance, 20 feet away from him - listening, moved, dazzled – and the audience was, as well," Dennehy said in a speech. "I will always be grateful to have been a part of it; to have been a witness to one of the greatest theatrical experiences and chilling performances I’ve ever been a part of."
Directed by Marc Bruni and hosted by O’Neill Center Executive Director Preston Whiteway, the program featured stage acts by Patrick Page, Carson Elrod and Tyler Bunch; a tribute video from Jesse Tyler Ferguson; musical adaptations by Jenni Barber, Jason Simon, Robert Creighton and Tim Shew; and remarks by Lane’s friends and colleagues, including Stroman and Broderick. Broderick reflected on his nearly 20-year history working with Lane. "Even after all this time – a thousand performances or maybe more – I still find stepping onto a stage with Nathan to be absolutely thrilling," he said. "Anyone in this room who has worked with him will tell you, you start rehearsal, and it’s electric. And Nathan’s laser-like precision and atomic clock timing are exhilarating. And you know this is a precious, rare opportunity to mix it up with a great one – a DiMaggio, a Merman, a Gleason."
Stroman was equally complimentary. "As a director and choreographer, you look for these kinds of performers who are fearless. That’s whom you want to surround yourself with. Nathan Lane is really one of a kind. There is nobody like him. He can lift one eyebrow and make you laugh – and life the other eyebrow and make you cry."
Founded in 1964, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT is a leading organization dedicated to the development of new works and new voices for American theatre, carrying the legacy of its namesake: four-time Pulitzer Prize winner and America's only playwright to win the Nobel Prize in literature, Eugene O'Neill. The Monte Cristo Award is presented to a prominent theater artist each year in recognition of a distinguished career exemplifying Eugene O’Neill’s "pioneering spirit, unceasing artistic commitment, and excellence."
Here is the full text of Lane's speech. In the sixth and seventh paragraphs is when emotion began to overcome him:
“Wow, um, thank you Brian that is very, very kind and moving. So, um, well, I just wanted to say first, I’m glad you’re all here. Thank you all for being here tonight and certainly my great thanks to Preston Whiteway and everyone at the Eugene O’Neill Theater center for this tremendous honor and especially to all the people who performed here tonight and my dear, dear friends and colleagues, Brian and Matthew, Susan, Jenni, Patrick, Carson and everyone. Thank you so very much. I’ve been fighting, if I look a little under the weather, it’s because I’ve been a little under the weather, I’ve been fighting a bug for a couple of weeks but tonight has done wonders for my health. I’m still kind of shaken up by what Brian had said so....
"So anyway, two years ago I was doing a little independent film with Julianne Moore and the only reason I did the movie was to get to work with her because I think she’s one of our greatest actresses. Well she turned out to be as wonderful a person as you would think and we really hit it off and one day we were having lunch together and we talked about everything: relationships, show business, why we do what we do and she mentioned that she had recently gotten an email from a friend saying how much she loved her work in something and she said--and it was kind of a Eureka moment-she said, 'Nathan, I think I know why I do this--I crave praise!' She said it like that: 'I crave praise' like she was revealing she was Keyser Söze [the villain in The Usual Suspects]. And we both burst out laughing because it was so hilarious and honest and vulnerable and yet, we all crave praise no matter what our field is.
"We all want to think our work is valued and appreciated and if it is particularly excellent, who doesn’t like a nice pat on the back? Although there is also a certain amount of embarrassment when a fuss is made and you’re feeling a little neurotic or maybe the creeping suspicion that perhaps you’re not really worthy of such approbation. That’s the major dilemma of praise cravers. Well my name is Nathan and I am a praise craver. Of course, the praise tonight is especially rewarding because it comes from an organization for whom I have the greatest respect, who has worked with both new and established writers, is incredibly important to the health of the American theater and I applaud you for being here tonight to support their wonderful work.
"I had to admit I realized I must be getting older because in the last few years, I’ve received a couple of lifetime achievement awards. I guess this is what happens when you’ve been acting on stage this many years. But it is a little disconcerting, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the gesture it’s just that as Hillary Clinton might say 'I’m not quite done yet.' The prestigious Monte Cristo Award--I’m so...this is so beautiful, this award. It’s Eugene O’Neill as a child sitting on a rock contemplating where the nearest liquor store is.
"I love this evening but I do want to say I was a little disturbed by the Eugene O’Neill puppet. That was--although, believe me, somewhere O’Neill is smiling because he loved puppets. He loved them. He loved puppets more than Carlotta. His last words were 'Put on Kukla, Fran, and Ollie!'
"The prestigious Monte Cristo Award is given for one’s body of work in the theater and since my body is so rarely appreciated I want to thank you for that. But since it is bestowed by the esteemed Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, I can’t help but connect this to my recent work in The Iceman Cometh, which started three years ago in the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and ended at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this year. So in light of that, let’s just say for the moment, this is just for us--which actually seems appropriate on another level because I spent the culmination of many years of work in the theater in part of a concerted effort to challenge, inspire, and scare myself and tap into all the darkness that many journalists and a few therapists claimed to have seen in my work and personality.
"And frankly, see if I could change people’s perception of me despite what I considered a resume with a pretty wide variety of different roles, a tall order. So I hitched my wagon to the extraordinary theatrical collaboration between the great Robert Falls and Brian Dennehy and instigated a production of the most difficult play ever written so I could play Hickey. And guess what? It worked. And, bam, it worked even better and it has changed my life forever. I’m not the same actor I was before I started.
"O’Neill can do that. He’s the daddy of American drama, the American Shakespeare, and he asks you to go to the most difficult emotional places. He will test you like no other writer, demanding your very best at all times and even then it might not be enough. He’s actually putting you through what he put himself through to write it. He’s asking you for the same kind of bravery he has, to take his hand and jump off that cliff with him.
"And when it works, when you hear the stunning silence of 1,000 people listening, thinking, and feeling and you’re lost on stage. And when things are going right, we break time and space and it is our time to dream. So that’s what happened to me. It was the high point of my acting career, for which I will be forever grateful.
"But believe me, I can find the dark cloud in any silver lining. And that’s this--the bastard has spoiled me for any other writer. They will always be compared to O’Neill. That’s not a fair fight. But I can’t help it, it’s like a great love affair. And the memory always makes me hungry for more. O’Neill has got his hooks into me and he won’t let go. So if you want to shake things up for yourself as an actor and find out what you’re made of, I’d highly recommend it. At any rate--I’m sorry for my many breakdowns--I can promise you this: I will do my best to try to live up to his standards and to the history of this award and its illustrious recipients. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart, this means more than you’ll ever know.”
For more information about the 15th Annual Monte Cristo Awards or the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, visit theoneill.org.