COSTA MESA, CA -- South Coast Repertory's new play development program got an ego -- and a profit -- boost when it was announced that Margaret Edson's Wit, a play discovered, developed and premiered at SCR in 1995, was awarded the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
"This is the highest honor that a playwright can receive," said producing artistic director David Emmes, "and as a theatre which devotes much of its resources to helping playwrights' programs, it has been a long-held goal at SCR to have one of our premieres earn this recognition."
Wit first came to the SCR in 1994. Sent to dozens of theatres that year, SCR was the only one to show interest. Dramaturg Jerry Patch saw the potential in the script and passed it along to artistic director Martin Benson, who, despite the play's subject matter (a woman dying of cancer), was determined to work with Edson on preparing the work for production.
At its NewSCRipts reading, the audience response to the play was so strong a production was scheduled for January 1995. Wit went on to win the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Ted Schmitt Award for Best New Play, and awards to Edson for playwriting, Benson for direction, and to Megan Cole for creating the role of the central character, Vivian Bearing.
Wit is currently running Off-Broadway, where it recouped its production costs a month ago. Edson receives 7 percent of the gross, but gives 4 percent to the SCR as part of her original contract with the theatre. The playwright's agent, Carolyn French, said Edson "feels very beholden to the SCR and won't let me renegotiate with them."
French added that rights to the play have been sold to a number of producers in other cities and countries.
After the local success of Wit, SCR commissioned another play from Edson -- a country-western musical based on singer Margaret Carson. But Benson said the level of musical proficiency it would require would make it very difficult to cast.
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent