United Solo Special Award 2019

In 2019, the United Solo Academy has nominated six performers for the Special Award: Michael C. HallAlison S. M. KobayashiAasif MandviMaggie SmithPhoebe Waller-Bridge, and Colin Quinn.

The 2019 United Solo Special Award was presented to Aasif Mandvi at the ceremony held on November 24, 2019 at Theatre Row on 42nd Street in New York City. Mr. Mandvi joins previous recipients of this award: Anna Deavere Smith (2010), Patti LuPone (2011),  John Leguizamo (2012), Fiona Shaw (2013), Billy Crystal (2014),  James Lecesne (2015),  Staceyann Chin & Cynthia Nixon (2016), Michael Moore (2017), and Renée Taylor (2018).

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Mandvi said: “Thank you so much to United Solo for this tremendous honor. And congratulations to all the solo performers who have had their shows showcased in the United Solo Festival. Solo shows are not easy, if all live theatre is performance without a safety net, a solo show is even more so. It’s like walking a tight rope suspended high above the ground without a safety net. I commend all of you for choosing this particularly courageous and vulnerable form of artistic expression, and I commend the United Solo team for highlighting it.”


Michael C. Hall charismatically scrutinized a grim human condition in Will Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing). His sharp portrayal of a man trapped in an abstract space by his sense of nihilism and cosmic futility achieved something remarkable: it brought dramatic clarity to a restless, obsessive and free-associative mind. Mr. Hall projected an awareness of the absurdity and randomness of life, in a precise performance that gave fierce and vital energy to complex existential themes.


In Say Something Bunny!, Alison S.M. Kobayashi solved the mystery of two antiquated voice recorder reels that she found by accident, transporting her audience through time to investigate a long-ago dinner party and its guests. Using incomplete clues suggesting family relationships and emotional complexities, Ms. Kobayashi embarked on a deeply empathic journey to fill in the blanks. Due to enthusiastic popular demand, this powerful show has been deservingly extended for additional performances this fall through January.


Aasif Mandvi portrayed several hopeful and striving characters grappling with family, tradition, and the exasperating culture of their adopted country at an Indian restaurant in the East Village. Sakina’s Restaurant was an iconic exploration of the immigrant experience when it premiered in 1998, and this moving and hilarious revival had only gained in relevance and impact. Mr. Mandvi virtuosically portrayed the earnestness and vulnerability of hyphenated New Yorkers finding their way in his deeply pleasurable and illuminating play.


The legendary Maggie Smith, one of the great actresses of our time, brought severe humanity to her portrayal of an ordinary German woman who became a stenographer for the Nazi propaganda ministry and unquestioningly participated in its atrocities. Ms. Smith’s extraordinary performance in Christopher Hampton’s A German Life was a master class in subtlety and power, as it explored the banality of evil from the perspective of an elderly woman alternately evading and confronting her memories.


Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, the supremely witty and thrilling account of a hedonistic millennial woman’s freedom of thought and sexuality, has rightly become a phenomenon. In her show, which was adapted into the beloved TV series, Ms. Waller-Bridge gave exuberant expression to the ambivalent paradoxes and emotional extremes of contemporary urban life. Like the best of auteurs, Ms. Waller-Bridge filtered a whole world through one unforgettable character’s dynamic point of view.


Ever the quintessential New Yorker who’s seen it all, Colin Quinn broke down present-day cultural divisions with signature candor in Red State Blue State. He took on hot-button controversies in an audacious show fueled by irascible comedy and plainspoken common sense. Without insisting that the audience agree with him on every single issue, Mr. Quinn refreshingly evoked the America that might be possible if people put down their phones and made a reasonable effort to understand each other.