The 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama: An Open Field

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14 Apr 2011

Crystal A. Dickinson, Annie Parisse and Jeremy Shamos in the Off-Broadway production of <I>Clybourne Park</I>.
Crystal A. Dickinson, Annie Parisse and Jeremy Shamos in the Off-Broadway production of Clybourne Park.
Joan Marcus

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.

Brian d'Arcy James and Laura Linney in Time Stands Still.
photo by Joan Marcus

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.

Johanna Day in Middletown at the Vineyard Theatre.
photo by Carol Rosegg

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
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.