The Playgoer: Next to Normal--a Pulitzer?

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Next to Normal--a Pulitzer?

Talk about a surprise.

This year's Pulitzer for Drama goes to...Next to Normal!

For a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000):  Awarded to “Next to Normal,” music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject matter for musicals.
So goes the citation.  But then it adds something strange:
(Moved into contention by the Board within the Drama category.) 
You know what that means.  The full Pulitzer "Board" seems to have overruled the Drama Jury.  Again.
As you may recall, back in 2007, the Pulitzer Board overruled the Drama Jury by awarding David Lindsay-Abbaire's popular favorite Rabbit Hole over three more adventurous, non-Broadway choices.

Witness this year's finalists list:
Nominated as finalists in this category were: “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” by Kristoffer Diaz, a play invoking the exaggerated role-playing of professional wrestling to explore themes from globalization to ethnic stereotyping, as the audience becomes both intimate insider and ringside spectator; “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” by Rajiv Joseph, a play about the chaotic Iraq war that uses a network of characters, including a caged tiger, to ponder violent, senseless death, blending social commentary with tragicomic mayhem; and “In the Next Room or the vibrator play,” by Sarah Ruhl, an inventive work that mixes comedy and drama as it examines the medical practice of a 19th century American doctor and confronts questions of female sexuality and emancipation.
In the Next Room did play Broadway.  But then again, it does have the word "vibrator" in the title.  Maybe some of the Pulitzer peeps blanched at the prospect of announcing that from the podium.  The other two are certainly interesting choices (haven't seen either).  I noticed that Joseph's play got an especially warm welcome in LA, where it was directed by Moises Kaufman.  And I also notice LA Times' Charles McNulty was the chair of this year's Drama Jury, which also included critics Hedy Weiss (Chicago Sun-Times) and David Rooney (late of Variety), as well as playwright Nilo Cruz and Duke Professor John M. Clum.  That looks like a good non-NYC based national perspective. 

So maybe we'll learn in the next couple of days what went down and how exactly the Board "moved" Next to Normal "into contention."  Did that allow for a Jury revote?  Or was this simply another overruling?

I don't mean to rush to conclusions.  But this is a blog after all, and I'm just recording my initial response for now.  And that postscript to the announcement sure seems odd.  But I'll try to follow up with as much fact gathering as I can.

Also, for the record, I'm making no value judgments about Next to Normal; never saw it.  And I knew it could just as easily be a musical this year as a play.  But I didn't think it would go to a musical that premiered Off Broadway two seasons ago!  Considering In the Next Room also had a professional premiere in an earlier season (at Berkeley Rep) I'd say those eligibility rules need some clarification again, don't you?

Perhaps Next to Normal was boosted by the fact the revised version debuted at Washington DC's Arena Stage (also in a previous season) where many of the Pulitzer bigwigs hang their hats.

FYI, the membership of this year's full Pulitzer Board is once again a non-impressive group arts-wise--with the likes of Tom Friedman and Paul Gigot.  Here's the full list...
The Board presided over the judging process that resulted in the 2010 winners and finalists. --Anders Gyllenhaal, chair; Sig Gissler, administrator.

Allen, Danielle, UPS Foundation Professor, School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ

Amoss, Jim, editor, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA

Beck, Randell, president and publisher, Argus Leader Media, Sioux Falls, SD

Bennett, Amanda, executive editor/Enterprise, Bloomberg News

Bollinger, Lee C., president, Columbia University, New York, NY

Carroll, Kathleen, executive editor and senior vice president, Associated Press

Dehli, Joyce, vice president for news, Lee Enterprises

Friedman, Thomas L., columnist, The New York Times, New York, NY

Gigot, Paul, editorial page editor, The Wall Street Journal, New York, NY

Gissler, Sig, administrator, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, New York, NY

Gyllenhaal, Anders, executive editor, The Miami Herald, Miami, FL

Kennedy, David M., Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

Lemann, Nicholas, dean, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, New York, NY

Lipinski, Ann Marie, vice president for civic engagement, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Moore, Gregory L., editor, The Denver Post, Denver, CO

Tash, Paul C., editor, The St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, FL

VandeHei, Jim, executive editor and co-founder, Politico

Willey, Keven Ann, vice president/editorial page editor, The Dallas Morning News


Unknown said...

The conspiracy theorist in me would like to believe the Drama Jury selected CHAD DEITY and the Board blanched at the idea of three straight Pulitzers going to plays that originated in Chicago.

Zev Valancy said...

The conspiracy theorist or the Chicago chauvinist, Rob?

Scott Walters said...

"And I also notice LA Times' Charles McNulty was the chair of this year's Drama Jury, which also included critics Hedy Weiss (Chicago Sun-Times) and David Rooney (late of Variety), as well as playwright Nilo Cruz and Duke Professor John M. Clum. That looks like a good non-NYC based national perspective."

Please don't do that again -- I blew Pepsi out of my nose and that hurts.

Let's take a look at that again -- and you can play along! Be the first one to spell Nylachi and you win the prize:
1. Nilo Cruz and David Rooney (NY)
2. Charles McNulty (LA)
3. Heidi Weiss (CHI)

Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

I know, I know -- conspiracy theorist.

Ryan said...

Charles McNulty, LA Times Critic & Head of the Pulitzer Drama Jury, rips the Pulitzer Board for overturning their nomination.,0,4460077.story