Finalists are not announced in advance, nor are jury members, and not all works under consideration are known, but it's hard to resist the game of speculating who will be awarded one of the major prizes for stage literature.
There is little doubt that the frontrunner is John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, his critically-lauded Broadway drama (which had its premiere Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club in fall 2004) about a clash of values and wills within a Catholic school in 1964.
For the 2005 drama prize, works produced between March 2, 2004, and March 1, 2005, are considered. Since "a dramatic work need not be formally submitted in order to be considered by the Drama Jury," according to www.Pulitzer.org, it makes the guessing game a little more difficult.
The work must be produced and receive a press opening within the deadline dates.
"Columbia University awards the Pulitzer Prize in Drama annually on the recommendation of The Pulitzer Prize Board, which acts on the nominations of a distinguished committee of Pulitzer Drama Jurors," according to www.Pulitzer.org. That jury includes a handful of theatre critics whose bylines appear in New York and regional papers. Pulitzer rules state the prize go to "a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life."
Here's a selective list of works that have pricked up the ears of critics and audiences in the past year, and may — or may not be — in the nomination mix:
After Ashley: Gina Gionfriddo's play began at the 2004 Humana Festival of New American Plays and then was seen in a separate staging Off-Broadway run at the Vineyard Theatre (to April 3), and is expected to have a wide regional life. It concerns a 17-year-old boy dealing with complex and tumultuous relationships with his mother and father when a young girl enters his life. Originally commissioned by Philadelphia Theatre Company, the work then developed further at the 2003 O'Neill Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center before becoming a breakout work at the 2004 Humana Fest in Louisville.
Doubt : On the face of it, the 90-minute four-actor drama set at a Bronx Catholic school in 1964 is a domestic drama about nuns, priests, parents, teachers and teaching. The plot point about a priest's supposed inappropriate behavior with a student has kept audiences guessing, but it's the metaphors that rise out of the situation that have prompted critics to buzz for months. Doug Hughes directs the Broadway run, representing the first time the prolific Shanley ("Moonstruck," Danny and the Deep Blue Sea) has made it to the Great White Way.
Gem of the Ocean: August Wilson's play, seen regionally and on Broadway in 2004-05, is the ninth play in the Pulitzer-winning writer's 10-play cycle chronicling the African-American experience through each decade of the 20th century. The story, set in 1904, begins on the eve of the 285th birthday of Aunt Ester (a recurring character in Wilson's play cycle). Citizen Barlow, a man who is in spiritual turmoil, arrives at Aunt Ester's house in Pittsburgh's Hill District and is soon set off on a spiritual journey to find the mythic City of Bones, leading him to startling discoveries and setting him on a course of duty and redemption.
The Clean House: Sarah Ruhl's play about a Portuguese domestic and the family she works for has been embraced by critics in resident productions (Yale Rep, Philly's Wilma Theater), and looks to become of the most-produced titles around the country (it's expected in New York City in the coming year). The play, which already won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, is a comedic account of a home in disarray in which a successful doctor discovers that her husband is having an affair with one of his patients. Meanwhile, the maid would rather spend her day telling jokes than clean. The doctor's sister strikes a deal with the maid, taking on the cleaning tasks.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee : The populist Off-Broadway musical about the pressures and personalities of a small-town spelling bee began as the conception of Rebecca Feldman, who creates work with The Farm in New York City. The show was developed by Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts in 2004, and has a book by Rachel Sheinkin and music and lyrics by William Finn (Falsettos). After the summer run in Massachusetts, where Feldman directed, James Lapine (Into the Woods, Dirty Blonde, A New Brain) was enlisted as director. A sold-out run at Off-Broadway's Second Stage earlier this year will blossom into a Broadway engagement beginning April 15 at Circle in the Square Theatre. As a possible contender for the 2005 Tony Awards, it is considered an underdog entertainment with a big heart and big laughs. The musical comedy's 10 contestants (six actors, four audience members) include multi-lingual national finalist Marcy Park, Putnam Basin district second runner up Leaf Coneybear, Magna Magnet for the Gifted and Unusual representative Logainne Schwarzandgrubeniere, last year's finalist (previously eliminated for health reasons) William Barfee, newcomer Olive Ostrovsky and last year's county champion Chip Tolentino. The original source play by The Farm was called C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E.
Thom Pain (based on nothing): Will Eno's critically celebrated short play, now enjoying an extended Off-Broadway run, is billed as "a wry monologue in which an ordinary man, Thom Pain, muses on childhood, yearning, disappointment and loss, cataloging the eternal agonies of the human condition as he draws his audience into his last-ditch plea for empathy and enlightenment." The work debuted in London at the Soho Theatre as a reading, then played at the Edinburgh Festival, before returning for a limited run at the Soho. Hal Brooks directs the work in New York. Eno recently won Newsday's George Oppenheimer Award as Most Promising Playwright for The Flu Season. The writer is an Edward Albee protégé whose style has often been compared to that of the elder playwright. Other intriguing titles seen in major productions in the past year include Lisa Kron's Well (The Public Theater, American Conservatory Theater), Richard Nelson's Rodney's Wife (Williamstown Theatre Festival, Playwrights Horizons), Craig Lucas' Small Tragedy (Playwrights Horizons), David Mamet's Romance (Atlantic Theater Company), Donald Margulies' Brooklyn Boy (South Coast Rep/Manhattan Theatre Club), Moonlight & Magnolias (Goodman Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club), Craig Lucas' The Singing Forest (Intiman Theatre, Long Wharf Theatre), Heather Raffo's Nine Parts of Desire and (Manhattan Ensemble Theatre), Tracy Letts' Bug (Barrow Street Theatre, where it technically opened prior to the 2004-05 eligibility period but ran within that time).
It is possible (but unlikely, if history is a lesson) that no award will be given at all, as has happened occasionally in the past. The last time that occurred was in 1997.
Last year, Doug Wright's one-man, multiple-character play, I Am My Own Wife won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The finalists were Omnium Gatherum by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros and The Man from Nebraska by Tracy Letts.
The 2003-2004 contenders were considered to be Caroline, or Change, the Tony Kushner-Jeanine Tesori musical about tensions between a black maid and her Jewish employers in Civil Rights-era Louisiana; The Light in the Piazza, Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas' musical love story of a young American woman who falls for a young Italian man while on holiday, which has seen productions in Seattle and Chicago (and is now at Lincoln Center Theater); Paula Vogel's theatrical look at one family's emotional legacy, The Long Christmas Ride Home; Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel; Avenue Q, the satirical puppet musical by Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx; and Lisa Loomer's drama of mothers and nannies in modern America, Living Out.
The 2003 victor, Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics, won based on its regional run in Florida, much to the chagrin of snobs who believe Broadway is the only place where Pulitzer-worthy plays can live. It subsequently had a short-lived run on Broadway. The win proved there is always room for a dark horse; Anna was on no prognosticator's radar as a potential winner in 2003.
The Pulitzer Prize — named for American journalist and publisher Joseph Pulitzer — was established in 1917, a stipulation of Mr. Pulitzer's will. The first Pulitzer Prize in Drama was awarded in 1918 to Jesse Lynch Williams' Why Marry?.
The complete list of Pulitzer Prize in Drama winners is listed below:
2003-04: I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright
2002-03: Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz
2001-02: Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks
2000-01: Proof by David Auburn
1999-00: 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