Best Performance by an 89-Year-Old (and One of the Better Ones by Anyone of Any Age)

Mike Nussbaum in Smokefall

Critics' Picks

Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, 312-443-3800, goodmantheatre.org

I first saw Mike Nussbaum act nearly 50 years ago, at Hull House Theater in Lakeview. I was a boy at the time; he was in his early 40s and hadn't yet quit his day job. As you probably know, he eventually did, and—thanks mainly to his role in the Goodman's 1984 debut of Glengarry Glen Ross, the Pulitzer Prize winner by another Hull House alum, David Mamet—became a late-blooming success on Broadway and in movies like Men in Black. Last fall Nussbaum bloomed yet again, playing not one but two old men in the Goodman's production of Noah Haidle's Smokefall. Undeniably, the mystique of the performance owed something to the fact that he was up there at all at 89 (he's since turned 90), knowing his lines and managing a staircase. But the beauty of it was its craft. Nussbaum has a touch of Cary Grant about him: his style combines grace, wit, self-deprecation, good humor, and command. He wasn't at the Goodman to do alter cockers but astutely differentiated men negotiating age in different ways. It was a great turn—one he'll reprise when Smokefall returns to the Goodman in September.