Pulitzer Insiders Detail Process That Resulted in Dinner Award

News   Pulitzer Insiders Detail Process That Resulted in Dinner Award Donald Margulies' Dinner with Friends was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama April 10. An Off-Broadway hit at the Variety Arts Theatre, Dinner With Friends concerns two couples: one going through a messy divorce and their best friends, who are rocked by their friends' break-up.

Donald Margulies' Dinner with Friends was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama April 10. An Off-Broadway hit at the Variety Arts Theatre, Dinner With Friends concerns two couples: one going through a messy divorce and their best friends, who are rocked by their friends' break-up.

Pulitzer Prize administrator Seymour Topping led the Pulitzer Prize announcement ceremony and said that drama prize winner Margulies has been a finalist for Collected Stories in earlier Pulitzer competitions. "Also nominated as finalists in this category were In the Blood by Susan Lori-Parks and King Hedley II by August Wilson," Topping said. "We understand that King Hedley II is also a work in progress." While discussing the Pulitzer Prize process with Playbill On-Line, Topping described how the members of the drama jury are asked not only to look at Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, but also to the regional theaters. To be considered by the drama jury, a play must be produced within the eligibility period, which runs March 2, 1999 - March 1, 2000. Topping said the drama jury can review a play that is not currently in production, which was the case this year with In the Blood and King Hedley II. Moreover, the Pulitzer office indicated that the critics comprising the drama jury do not necessarily have to see a production as long as they read the script and as long as the work was actually produced within the eligibility period.

"There are certainly always a number of plays to be considered and there have been years when no award had been made," Topping said. "This year, the board was in concurrence with the jury that Dinner with Friends deserved an award and it was given a prize."

The Pulitzer Prize administrator provided a summary of those years during which prizes have not been awarded. With 14 "no award" years, the drama category ranked at the very top of the other 12 Pulitzer categories with any record of no-award years in the 84-year history of the Pulitzer. In other words, there has been a no award for drama nearly 17 percent of the time. No awards for drama were made in 1917, 1919, 1942, 1944, 1947, 1951, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1986 and 1997.

In the case of a nominated finalist work, if there are truly significant changes made in the play or script and the production itself, it can be considered again in the future. The Pulitzer board encourages its drama jury (critics) to reach out and see a variety of works, but does not necessarily feel an obligation to find an annual drama prize recipient. "The board doesn't hesitate to take a position that there isn't a play that particular year that isn't deserving of a prize," Topping said, "and it feels under no pressure to give a prize every year in that category or any other as a matter of fact." In the past, there have been awards for shows that have only been produced in the regions and there have been instances when something is produced in the regions and then comes into New York. Topping cited one example, Angels in America, where the award went to the Los Angeles production. The show was subsequently done in New York.

While numerous works were considered for the drama prize, there doesn't seem to be an available count of the total number of eligible plays that were reviewed this year. Ultimately, the jury is simply required to come forward with three nominations based on what they consider to be the best plays of that year.

Newsweek senior editor Jack Kroll, who chaired this year's Pulitzer Prize drama jury, did not have an exact count of the total number of works that were reviewed, but confirmed Topping's outline of the process, right down to the "objective disconnect" between the jury's final recommendation and the Pulitzer board's ultimate choice. In fact, when Kroll was contacted by Playbill On-Line shortly after the Pulitzer Prizes were announced at Columbia University's School of Journalism, his first question was, "Who won?"

Kroll said he was not surprised that the Pulitzer board had confirmed the jury's first choice of Dinner with Friends. "The 'entries' were all the plays we'd seen," Kroll explained. "Anything was a possible entry and the jurors could recommend anything they thought was Pulitzer calibre." Kroll stressed that individual jurors were free to exercise their prerogatives. While an individual member might have thought several hundred works were worthy of winning the prize, "someone else might have thought there were only 23," Kroll explained.

Comprising the 2000 Pulitzer Prize drama jury were chairman and Newsweek senior editor Jack Kroll, Chicago Tribune chief critic and senior writer Richard Christiansen, The New York Times theatre critic Peter Marks, University of Houston professor of theatre Stuart Ostrow and former Los Angeles Times drama critic Laurie Winer.

Kroll said the jury collaborated using "thousands of e-mails," and that it was up to each individual person to read scripts. "Out of that we formed our own private list of what we thought was adequate," Kroll said. "Then I took the list to see if anyone happened to pop to the top, which it had."

Last year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama went to Margaret Edson's Wit. At that time, Edson's play about a terminally ill scholar was considered a clear front runner.

The Pulitzer Prize has been offered annually since 1917 for a "distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life." All of the works that have been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama are listed below.

1999-2000: Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies
1998-99: Wit by Margaret Edson
1997-98: How I Learned To Drive by Paula Vogel
1996-97: No award
1995-96: Rent by Jonathan Larson
1994-95: The Young Man From Atlanta by Horton Foote
1993-94: Three Tall Women by Edward Albee
1992-93: Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, by Tony Kushner
1991-92: The Kentucky Cycle, by Robert Schenkkan
1990-91: Lost in Yonkers, by Neil Simon
1989-90: The Piano Lesson, by August Wilson
1988-89: The Heidi Chronicles, by Wendy Wasserstein
1987-88: Driving Miss Daisy, by Alfred Uhry
1986-87: Fences, by August Wilson
1985-86: No award
1984-85: Sunday in the Park With George, by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim
1983-84: Glengarry Glen Ross, by David Mamet
1982-83: 'night, Mother, by Marsha Norman
1981-82: A Soldier's Play, by Charles Fuller
1980-81: Crimes of the Heart, by Beth Henley
1979-80: Talley's Folly, by Lanford Wilson
1978-79: Buried Child, by Sam Shepard
1977-78: The Gin Game, by D.L. Coburn
1976-77: The Shadow Box, by Michael Cristofer
1975-76: A Chorus Line, by Michael Bennett, James Kirkwood, Nicholas Dante, Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban
1974-75: Seascape, by Edward Albee
1973-74: No award
1972-73: That Championship Season, by Jason Miller
1971-72: No award
1970-71: The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, by Paul Zindel
1969-70: No Place To Be Somebody, by Charles Gordone
1968-69: The Great White Hope, by Howard Sackler
1967-68: No award
1966-67: A Delicate Balance, by Edward Albee
1965-66: No award
1964-65: The Subject Was Roses, by Frank D. Gilroy
1963-64: No award
1962-63: No award
1961-62: How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, by Abe Burrows, Willie Gilbert, Jack Weinstock and Frank Loesser
1960-61: All the Way Home, by Tad Mosel
1959-60: Fiorello!, by Jerome Weidman, George Abbott, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock
1958-59: J.B., by Archibald MacLeish
1957-58: Look Homeward, Angel, by Ketti Frings
1956-57: Long Day's Journey Into Night, by Eugene O'Neill
1955-56: The Diary of Anne Frank, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
1954-55: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, by Tennessee Williams
1953-54: The Teahouse of the August Moon, by John Patrick
1952-53: Picnic, by William Inge
1951-52: The Shrike, by Joseph Kramm
1950-51: No award
1949-50: South Pacific, by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
1948-49: Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller
1947-48: A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
1946-47: No award
1945-46: State of the Union, by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
1944-45: Harvey, by Mary Chase
1943-44: No award
1942-43: The Skin of Our Teeth, by Thornton Wilder
1941-42: No award
1940-41: There Shall Be No Night, by Robert E. Sherwood
1939-40: The Time of Your Life, by William Saroyan
1938-39: Abe Lincoln in Illinois, by Robert E. Sherwood
1937-38: Our Town, by Thornton Wilder
1936-37: You Can't Take It With You, by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
1935-36: Idiot's Delight, by Robert E. Sherwood
1934-35: The Old Maid, by Zoe Akins
1933-34: Men in White, by Sidney Kingsley
1932-33: Both Your Houses, by Maxwell Anderson
1931-32: Of Thee I Sing, by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, Ira and George Gershwin
1930-31: Alison's House, by Susan Glaspell
1929-30: The Green Pastures, by Marc Connelly
1928-29: Street Scene, by Elmer Rice
1927-28: Strange Interlude, by Eugene O'Neill
1926-27: In Abraham's Bosom, by Paul Green
1925-26: Craig's Wife, by George Kelly
1924-25: They Knew What They Wanted, by Sidney Howard
1923-24: Hell-Bent fer Heaven, by Hatcher Hughes
1922-23: Icebound, by Owen Davis
1921-22: Anna Christie, by Eugene O'Neill
1920-21: Miss Lulu Bett, by Zona Gale
1919-20: Beyond the Horizon, by Eugene O'Neill
1918-19: No award
1917-18: Why Marry?, by Jesse Lynch Williams
1916-17: No award

-- By Murdoch McBride