The Playgoer: Pulitzer buzz

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pulitzer buzz

Would you call any of these three the most "distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life" to premiere between March 2, 2005 and March 1, 2006*?

"Red Light Winter" by Adam Rapp
"Miss Witherspoon" by Christopher Durang
"The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow,"by Rolin Jones

Well according to Michael Riedel they are now the finalists for the next Pulitzer Prize in Drama, to be awarded on April 17. Of the three I only saw "Witherspoon" and you can guess my reaction this honor by reading my review. I've heard good things about the other two--but was hardly under the impression that either has been received as a "major play."

Of course, the extent to which such a prize matters at all is dependent on what else came out in the given year. Alas, no other new American plays spring to mind at the moment. But what would you nominate?

Riedel has some very interesting dirt, by the way, on the exclusion of the much-praised In the Continuum, possibly due to the objections of one Anna Deavere Smith!

Smith is one of the "jurors," along with critics Linda Winer and Chicago's Chris Jones.

* Guidelines as spelled out on the Pulitzer website.


Anonymous said...

People can say these awards don't matter, Rent got one, Neil Simon blah blah blah. But they do. And this list is pathetic.

Anonymous said...

wow, do they have to pick one of these? aren't they allowed to award "no prize"? if they do pick one of these, they're just further undermining what little credibility they have... reminds me of the grammys years ago when Toto swept (my first realization that perhaps, just perhaps, awards were full of crap).

parabasis said...

What are the dates that function as the deadlines for eligibility? Also, how do they decide when a play is "done"? WHen it's published? WHen it is first reviewed? What do you do, for example, with WELL?

I think if you read my website, you'd know that I'd put Itemar Moses' "Bach at Leipzig" up there. And there are a host of very interesting and talented writers who had regional premiers this year-- PASSION PLAY: A CYCLE at Arena comes to mind. I dunno. Just feels like they didn't do their homework.


Anonymous said...

I saw both "Red Light Winter" and "Jenny Chow." Both were promising pieces with flashes of fine, funny writing. But in the end neither felt like an entirely successful play.

I certainly didn't leave either one thinking it was the best play of the year.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed Red Light Winter quite a bit - and it was given a superb overall production. Ruby Sunrise was on my mind for days afterward, a thoughtful, stucturally fascinating work also well produced. But does either qualify as a monumental work of American playwriting? Not really. Ruby was historical and clever; Red Light was very provocative and specific to its milieu. It was not a great season (June 05 to May 06, basically) for plays. I'm racking my brains for more contenders. I'd be happy if either got the Pulitzer, but frankly, that prize has gone to some reals duds in the last 5 years. Some, not all.

Anonymous said...

Why is Anna Deavre Smith on the panel? Everyone knows she hates playwriting.

MattJ said...

David's got a great point. "There have been some real duds in the last 5 years." The pulitzer always baffles my mind. I mean, come on, "Dinner with Friends?" "Proof?" The decisions are relatively conservative, and based in commericialism. What could the criteria possibly be? What it obviously is not is an award to distinguish playwrights who are progressive with the artform and chart new territory, at least, in most cases.

Karl Miller said...

I would go so far as to add "Doubt" to MattJ's tally of clean, middling plays. Couple that with "Wit" and "Rent" and ... there's a pretty obvious formula for the P seal these days. Seems more and more like the committee awards the prize the way a university review panel might grade a thesis production: not so much a symbol for the best we have to offer as much as a graduation stamp for the well-made play. These plays also collapse nicely into HBO retro-fits. Isn't there another rule? That whatever play Albee squeezed out HAS to be nominated? I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

just returned from a matinee of rabbit hole... where, for some strange reason, a significant portion of the not-entirely-octagenarian audience felt compelled to STAND(?!?) at the curtain... WHAT?!?... And now this... No wonder theater sucks.

Anonymous said...

er, octogenarian... must be approaching there myself.

Anonymous said...

It seems pretty clear that there just wasn't a Pulitzer-worthy play this year--and also that this two-critics-plus-one-artist judging panel is a poor system (last year, when Charles Isherwood was a judge and his pet project Thom Pain was a finalist, it was ridiculously clear that that was his personal call).

Playgoer said...

The Pulitzer committee has indeed sometimes taken the option of giving no prize for Drama. Ideally such a statement could goad theatre companies to more aggressively presenting new plays. Unfortunately it would be read by the media as "American Plays Suck."

Sometimes they've taken the even more interesting step of naming a screenplay! Which I actually support for certain films. In 1986 they gave it to Hannah and Her Sisters. Certainly an inoffensive safe choice as far as challenging material goes. But as an eternal Woody fan, I say right on. (Sentimental nostalgia comedy? Perhaps a bit. But still holds up beautifully on its own terms.)

But, look, I would have more respect for the Pulitzer folks if they gave it to Kushner for "Munich" than to Miss Witherspoon! (Or even interesting indie films I haven't seen like Brokeback, or Me and You and Everyone I Know)

Other screenplay nominations?

Kyle said...

I don't know the other two plays, but I would be thrilled to see The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow win a Pulitzer. I saw the South Coast Rep production and have been singing its praises ever since.