Pulitzer Possibilities: Who Will Win the 2007 Prize?
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
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.
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.
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.
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
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