Pulitzer Possibilities: Who Will Win the 2007 Prize?

By Zachary Pincus-Roth
April 11, 2007

The race for this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama is as stupefying as it was last year, when the organization named three finalists but chose to give no award.

An informal survey of theatre industry vets found that for the second year in a row, no work is an obvious standout the way Doubt was in 2005, leading some to speculate that the drama category might again be left with no award when the Pulitzers are announced April 16 at 3 PM.

Or perhaps Pulitzer odds-makers should just dig a little deeper. One person with knowledge of this year's finalists called them "obscure," which could portend an out-of-left-field winner like Nilo Cruz's play Anna in the Tropics, which won in 2003 before it came to New York.

First, let's review the rules. According to the Pulitzer website, the award is "for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life" and "productions opening in the United States between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2006 are eligible" (and opening does mean press opening, as opposed to simply beginning previews). This year is only the second year that the drama prize has used the calendar year, as opposed to the previous system of considering plays between March of one year and March of the next. A small committee of theatre critics and artists determines the nominated finalists, and the overall Pulitzer board picks a winner.

David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole has been the subject of Pulitzer speculation since its world premiere opened in February 2006 at Manhattan Theatre Club's Biltmore Theatre on Broadway. Lindsay-Abaire is respected for his quirky, freewheeling Off-Broadway comedies such as Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo, but his more serious Rabbit Hole is about a family recovering from the death of a child. The play received five Tony nominations, including Best Play.

Two Broadway musicals getting Pulitzer buzz include Spring Awakening and Grey Gardens, both of which transferred from Off-Broadway last year. Both shows, however, have to contend with the stipulation that a work be "preferably original in its source," as Spring Awakening is based on Frank Wedekind's 1891 play and Grey Gardens is based on the 1975 documentary. Spring Awakening had the more enthusiastic reviews, though it perhaps sticks more closely to its source material than Grey Gardens does, as the latter's whole first act is not in the film. And though Spring Awakening's themes are clearly universal ones experienced by teenagers everywhere, it is set not in the U.S. but in Germany, and Wedekind is German.

Another high-profile contender is The Little Dog Laughed, Douglas Carter Beane's play about a closeted movie star and his conniving agent, which opened its world premiere at Second Stage in January 2006 and later transferred to Broadway. The show received positive reviews, though the fact that its Broadway production closed Feb. 18, only three months after opening, could affect its chances.

Radio Golf, the last play August Wilson wrote before he passed away in 2005, is a complicated case. The play was eligible for last year's Pulitzer because of its 2005 world premiere at Yale Rep. But this year the Pulitzer jury received a revised script, from the Huntington Theatre Company's 2006 production. According to the play's Broadway producer Jeffrey Richards, that script is the final version of the play, used by its subsequent productions at the Goodman and McCarter Theatres and on Broadway, where it begins previews April 20. In order to consider Radio Golf, the jury would have to determine that the script had been significantly revised after Yale Rep. Wilson won two Pulitzers, for Fences and The Piano Lesson.

The recently announced Lucille Lortel Award nominees for Outstanding Play are a potential indicator. Two of them are ineligible. Stuff Happens is by a British writer, David Hare, and while Christopher Shinn's Dying City made its world premiere in 2006 at Royal Court, it did not make its U.S. premiere at Lincoln Center Theater until 2007 (it will likely be a serious contender next year).

But the other two nominees — Keith Bunin's The Busy World Is Hushed, which world premiered at Playwright Horizons, and A. R. Gurney's Indian Blood, which world premiered at Primary Stages — are eligible. Gurney was a finalist for The Dining Room in 1985 and Love Letters in 1990.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck has two potential contenders. Her well-received play The Scene made its world premiere in spring 2006 at the Humana Festival at the Actors Theatre of Louisville (it later opened at Second Stage in January 2007). And, Rebeck's Mauritius, which world premiered at the Huntington in October 2006 and has yet to arrive in New York, beat out Radio Golf to win the Best New Play (large production) at the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Awards. Omnium Gatherum, which Rebeck co-wrote with Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, was a finalist in 2004.

Jonathan Groff in the buzzworthy Spring Awakening.
photo by Joan Marcus
Also keep an eye on Nilaja Sun's No Child…, a Lortel nominee for Outstanding Solo Show. The play, currently running at the Barrow Street Theatre, is Sun's solo take on the New York City public school system. Another sleeper choice could be American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) New Play Award winner Hunter Gatherers by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, first produced in June 2006 at Killing My Lobster in San Francisco. The surprise Pulitzer winner Anna in the Tropics also won the Steinberg prize.

Others to watch: Tanya Barfield's Blue Door, which world premiered at South Coast Rep and then ran at Playwrights Horizons, and was a 2005 Honorable Mention for the Kesselring Prize for Drama; Will Power's The Seven, which world premiered at New York Theatre Workshop and won last year's Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical (though it's based on Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes); Steinberg prize runner-up Opus by Michael Hollinger at the Arden Theatre Company, which also won the Barrymore Award for best new Play in Philadelphia; the other Steinberg runner-up, Guest Artist by the playwright and film actor Jeff Daniels, which was seen at the Purple Rose Theatre in Michigan, where Daniels is executive director; and John Kolvenbach's Love Song, which received great reviews in its world premiere at Steppenwolf in Chicago and moved to the West End, where the reception was more mixed.

Notable ineligible plays include Bruce Norris' The Pain and the Itch, which was eligible last year because of its 2005 world premiere at Steppenwolf; Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which opened on Broadway in 2007 and will be eligible next year; and Shining City and The History Boys, which made their U.S. premieres on Broadway in 2006 but were not written by Americans.

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The Pulitzer Prize — named for American journalist and publisher Joseph Pulitzer — was established in 1917, a stipulation of 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:

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, 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