Who'll Get the 2012 Pulitzer for Drama? Other Desert Cities? Prophet? Speculation Swirls

By Robert Simonson
April 9, 2012

Last year at this time, as Playbill was polling theatre pundits about possible recipients of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, many assumed that Jon Robin Baitz's widely praised family drama Other Desert Cities was the obvious front-runner.



But Lincoln Center Theater shook its head at the suggestion. The production did not officially open at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre until January 2011 (previews began in December 2010), and was thus not eligible for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Pulitzer rules clearly stated, "Productions opening in the United States between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2010 are eligible."

A year has passed — the 2012 Pulitzers and finalists in a number of literary and journalistic divisions get announced April 16 — and now it looks like it may now be Robbie's turn. (Baitz is known to his intimates by that diminutive.) And, as luck would have it, the play is still running. Other Desert Cities transferred to Broadway on Nov. 3, 2011, where it still plays. So if the Pulitzer jurors (who make the recommendations) and the Pulitzer judges (who choose the winner) want to refresh their memory as to the quality of the script, they have ready access to the living, breathing premiere production. Remember what a last-minute visit by the judges to the un-recommended Next to Normal did to the 2010 race?

Should Baitz win, the honor will be long in coming for the one-time golden boy of the American theatre. The dramatist's talent has been critically praised since The Film Society bowed in 1987. But, a quarter century and a dozen plays later, his career has been more roller-coaster that steady incline. The closest he came to the Pulitzer was in 1996, when A Fair Country, one of Baitz's best-regarded plays, was a finalist for the prize. Other Desert Cities is, in fact, the first Broadway play for Baitz, who is now 50.

Nearly every one of the dozen critics, press agents and pundits who were polled for this article assumed Other Desert Cities was running well ahead of the pack. And those who didn't assume that thought the play had been eligible in 2011. As one observer commented, "The more interesting guessing game [this year] is who will the finalists be."

Read the Playbill Vault entry about the 2011 winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Clybourne Park, currently playing on Broadway. 

Santino Fontana and Yusef Bulos in Sons of the Prophet.
photo by Joan Marcus

Two titles regularly came up as likely runners-up: Sons of the Prophet and 4000 Miles. Both plays are by young, relatively unknown authors. And both came out of the blue to impress critics with the maturity of their message and craftsmanship.

Sons, by Stephen Karam, is a loosely structured, contemplative look at a Lebanese-American Pennsylvania family struggling to contend with the confusing, comic-tragic hand fate has dealt them. Critics lauded it for its humane voice and refusal to offer easy answers. It was produced Off-Broadway by the Roundabout Theatre Company last fall and proved one of the bright spots of the first half of the theatre season.

4000 Miles, by Amy Herzog, is a gentle, warm drama about a troubled young man who crashes at the Manhattan apartment of his aged grandmother to piece together the parts of his recently shattered life and world view. Critics found Herzog's naturalistic tapestry touching, compassionate and authentically felt. Opening last summer at the Duke on 42nd Street, the work was a surprise critical hit. Lincoln Center Theater, the producer, recently reopened it at the larger Newhouse.

But, wait! — here we go again. A Lincoln Center spokesman said 4000 Miles will be submitted for the calendar year 2012 so it won't be eligible for the award that's announced this month. One guesses LCT doesn't want to pit two of its Pulitzer-bait properties against one another. 

Read the Playbill Vault entry about the 2011 winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Clybourne Park, currently playing on Broadway. 

Frances McDormand and Tate Donovan in Good People.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Other possible contenders for the prize that were mentioned included: Good People, the David Lindsay-Abaire drama about social class and good intentions, which ran at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman (Lindsay-Abaire already has a Pulitzer to his name, for Rabbit Hole); Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Mother****er With the Hat, which won good reviews for its Broadway production; David Henry Hwang's Chinglish, about an American businessman seeking redemption with a deal in China that is complicated by communication issues (it played the Goodman Theatre and Broadway in 2011); and The Book of Mormon, the monster hit musical which is also a critics darling (though those polled suggested the piece didn't have the literary weight to be seriously considered for the award).

The Pulitzer Prize is administered by Columbia University. The Drama prize is "for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life." The recipient gets $10,000.

Read the Playbill Vault entry about the 2011 winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Clybourne Park, currently playing on Broadway. 

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The complete list of Pulitzer Prize in Drama winners is listed below:

2011: Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris
2010: Next to Normal by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey

2009: Ruined, by Lynn Nottage

2008: August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts

2007: Rabbit Hole, by David Lindsay-Abaire

2006: No award

2004-05: Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley

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 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 and Ira 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


For more information, visit pulitzer.org.

Follow Robert Simonson on Twitter at @RobertOSimonson.