For 79 years, the Best Plays annual volume has been a crucial reference work for theatre lovers and scholars. Not only would the book's editors (initially Burns Mantle, more recently Otis Guernsey) choose the season's 10 most valuable plays/musicals of the New York commercial theatre season, they would list the credits of all the major shows in theatres Off Broadway and across the country, as well as provide photographs, awards listings, necrologies, season summaries, and a gallery of drawings by Al Hirschfeld.
Volume 79 is due in late January 1999, and like last year's book, this one no longer bases its criteria for play selection on the decision of its editorial staff. Instead, plays included are only those which have won major awards. That is, Tony, Lucille Lortel, Pulitzer Prize and NY Drama Critics Circle. (Plays included are partially excerpted and summarized by the editors.)
Thus, the 1997-1998 Best Plays are The Lion King (Tony and NY Drama Critics Circle Awards), Art (Tony and NYDCCA), Pride's Crossing (NYDCCA), The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Lucille Lotel Award), and Gross Indecency (Lucille Lortel Award). Paula Vogel's Pulitzer-winning How I Learned To Drive is cited but not excerpted, because that show was included in last year's book, when the show won the Lortel and NYDCCA awards.
The new edition also includes a special editors' citation for Ragtime. (The editors have reserved the right to single out for a Special Citation a deserving play they feel was overlooked, as they did with Old Wicked Songs two years ago.) Also included are brief excerpts of regional shows honored by the American Theatre Critics Association: Jitney, The Old Settler and The Cider House Rules, Part II.
In his introduction to the previous year's volume, editor Guernsey explains his reason for the new system: "It has become increasingly..difficult and less appropriate to pick out ten plays for special treatment to the exclusion of all others. Our theatre has become much too sophisticated for that, ranging from the multi-million-dollar musical spectacle to the piercing solo performance... Our New York theatre has never been more eclectic." The Best Plays Of 1997-98, which covers June 1, 1997-May 31, 1998, also features an introductory overview of the Off-Off-Broadway season by NY Times critic Mel Gussow, and a look at the Broadway/Off Broadway season by Playbill On-Line editor-in-chief David Lefkowitz.
The Limelight Editions publication will retail for $47.50.
-- By David Lefkowitz