Who'll Get the 2012 Pulitzer for Drama? Other Desert Cities? Prophet? Speculation Swirls
By Robert Simonson
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."
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.
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.
The complete list of Pulitzer Prize in Drama winners is listed below:
2011: Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris
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