The Playgoer: McNulty & Cote on Pultizer

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Friday, April 20, 2007

McNulty & Cote on Pultizer

Charles McNulty weighs in, in the Sunday LA Times (online now), on the Pulitzer puzzlement. Not to dis Rabbit Hole, but to remind readers how badly the less commercial plays need the attention. Right on the money.

A panel of informed theater critics and professionals found excellence where there was little fanfare....We were being urged to pay attention to work that has more difficulty than ever of getting noticed. "Rabbit Hole" is worthy of the Pulitzer. And one can be grateful that the board didn't skip the drama award, as it did last year (not for the first time). But the unsung badly need a lift right now.

Patronage of adventurous programming is the only answer to skittish, market-centered leadership. Let's be sure to attend when and if the unheralded finalists make it here.
For those keeping score, by the way...
Articles so far on the Pulitzer Drama award in LA Times? 2. NY Times? Zero.

(Is Brantley's involvement--not to mention possibly even Tom Friedman's--enforcing "conflict of interest" rules?)

And another MSM critic, Time Out NY's David Cote goes blog-ballistic. Some may remember his lonely dissent on "Rabbit Hole" back when it first opened last year. At the time he was not necessarily just faulting the play, but using it as an example of supra-criticism to point the finger at the kind of regime of safeness that has taken over the larger nonprofit theatres (in this case, Manhattan Theatre Club). Not that David didn't believe these things before, but it was almost, dare I say, a great "Road to Damascus" moment for a critic, that I feel has defined his mission ever since. It was gutsy of him to put it in print back then, and presaged all the disturbing things about the Pulitzer board's decision now.

Personally, I see nothing cynical in MTC's programming of a play like "Rabbit Hole"--as well as similar "old fashioned" backward-looking Pulitzer-winning plays "Doubt" and "Proof" before it. I only think they are just perfectly in sync with the middlebrow arts tastes of the Journalistic Establishment. (The Ornette Coleman award aside.)

Which is why both subscription-based theatre and respectable print journalism are dying.

4 comments:

StageDoor said...

I have to say that I was a bit bored during RABBIT HOLE. As a fan of Lindsay-Abaire, I was disappointed that he got away from his trademark style and wrote, what in my opinion, was a blatantly commercial piece. I guess there is a difference in writing plays for MTC's Stage II, where FUDDY MEERS premiered, a venue that seats only 150 people, versus The Bilmore at 600+.

Anonymous said...

What's missing in this discussion is noting the conflict of interest in the adjudicating process. Paula Vogel was on the judging committee, and one of the nominess, Quiara Alegria Hudes, was an MFA student of hers for three years.

Let me say that I saw Ms. Hudes' play and thought it was amazing. It certainly deserved to be nominated, and probably deserved to win. It was easily one of the very best productions of the season. Her talent and potential can't be overstated.

But I also feel that Ms. Vogel should have recused herself from this process. Basic journalistic ethics dictate that you don't review a friend's book. They should also hold that you can't nominate (or award) a former student's play for the Pulitzer.

The nomination would have meant a little more--and the Pulitzers would certainly be worthier of their prestige--had Ms. Vogel considered appearances here.

And by the way, why is deciding NOT to give an award such a bad thing? Seems to me it sets a standard. Requiring an award every year is a recipe for mediocrity in the long run, isn't it?

Malachy Walsh said...

Odd to me that people think RABBIT HOLE is blatantly commercial.

A comedy would be moreso in my thinking because comedy promises the escape of laughter. That's generally the easiest form of engagement for people to pay for these days. I think, in fact, we currently found ourselves in a strange rut where we say, "I'm laughing, so this must be good entertainment."

RABBIT HOLE is an unhappy play. It's a subject people often feel they already have to learn about in life. It's easily thought of as depressing.

I saw the show at the OSF - before the Pulitzer announcement. The theater was barely - BARELY - half full.

That's NOT blatantly commercial.

Terry Teachout said...

BTW, I blitzed "Rabbit Hole." See my blog:

http://www.artsjournal.com/aboutlastnight/2007/04/tt_another_prize_gone_wrong.html