The 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama: An Open Field
By Robert Simonson
Last year was a season without an obvious choice for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. There was no critical home-run like Ruined by Lynn Nottage or August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, the victors in 2009 and 2008, respectively. The end result of this uncertainty was controversy.
The 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalists submitted by the jurors were The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz; Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph (now playing on Broadway); and In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl. But the Pulitzer judges swept aside those recommendations and gave the award to Next to Normal, the Tony Award-winning rock musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.
This decision caused members of the jury — which included Los Angeles Times drama critic Charles McNulty; Duke University professor John M. Clum; playwright Nilo Cruz; theatre critic David Rooney; and Chicago Sun-Times theatre critic Hedy Weiss — to publicly deride the Pulitzer organization, which in turn went to certain lengths to explain their actions. It all made for quite the little news cycle.
Well, brace yourself. Because it's one of those years again. There is no play that is a clear front-runner in Pulitzer land. The 2011 Pulitzer Prize winners and nominated finalists will be announced on April 18.
For this speculative article, Playbill.com collected the opinions of some of New York's prominent critics and theatre pros, none of which were willing to point to one play or musical as a likely winner. One title that immediately came into the conversation was Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies, who won the Pulitzer in 1999 for Dinner With Friends. Even though the play opened at the Geffen Playhouse in 2009 before it bowed in a Broadway production by Manhattan Theatre Club in January 2010 — and was thus eligible for the 2010 prize — the playwright purposefully withdrew it from consideration in 2010, because he knew he was going to make some alterations to the script. Time Stands Still, which reopened commercially on Broadway in October 2010, was submitted by MTC for consideration in 2011.
Other Desert Cities, the well-reviewed drama by Jon Robin Baitz, was also suggested by a few of those polled. But the Lincoln Center Theater production did not officially open until January 2011 (previews began in December 2010), and, according to a LCT spokesman, is not eligible for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Other Desert Cities is expected to reopen on Broadway next season.
Other plays that were suggested more than once: Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris' riff on A Raisin in the Sun that examined race relations and the effects of modern gentrification, which opened at Off-Broadway Playwright Horizons in February 2010; Middletown, Will Eno's mildly surreal, post-modern Our Town-like vision of quietly desperate, everyday lives, which premiered at Vineyard Theatre in November 2010; The Scottsboro Boys, another Vineyard production which later transferred to Broadway, in which John Kander and Fred Ebb used the Minstrel Show format to tell the tragic real-life story of racism and social brutality in the 1930s; The Aliens, Annie Baker's encounter between two angry young men and a lonely high school student outside a Vermont coffee shop, which opened at the Rattlestick Theatre in April 2010; John Logan's Red, about a pivotal moment in artist Mark Rothko's life; and After the Revolution, Amy Herzog's play about a family that is forced to confront new questions about a blacklisted grandfather's history, which opened at Playwrights Horizons in November 2010.
One of these authors has previously been considered for the Pulitzer; Eno was a finalist for Thom Pain (based on nothing) in 2005.
Established in 1917 in honor of American journalist and publisher Joseph Pulitzer, the annual ceremony presents honors in 21 categories. The award in drama, which includes a $10,000 prize, is "for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life," according to the official guidelines. "Productions opening in the United States between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2010 are eligible."
The complete list of Pulitzer Prize in Drama winners is listed below:
2010: Next to Normal by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey
For more information, visit pulitzer.org.
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