Drama Pulitzer, 5

In the dustup over the Pulitzer Committee’s decision to bypass the recommendations of its Drama Panel and give the drama award to (gasp!) a musical, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s searing look at the impact of bipolar disorder on one American family, “Next To Normal,” I noticed a line in the column of Charles McNulty, the Los Angeles Times theater critic who chaired the panel whose recommendations were passed over. While he makes a number of interesting points and I’m not going to get into the “musical or non-musical” debate, I was struck by his comment: “Too bad the board doesn’t have members who are better able to distinguish the merits of a production from the merits of a dramatic work.” Clearly, he thinks such a distinction is justified here and I don’t — the underlying work of Kitt and Yorkey was well served by a superb production but it wasn’t just the production that thrilled me in either the pre-Broadway production here at Arena Stage in their temporary digs in Arlington, Virginia or in performance at the Booth Theatre in New York. But his general point is worth talking about. Can a superb production do more than “accentuate the positive”? If a play hasn’t got that difficult to define element we call quality, can a production do enough to “eliminate the negative”? (Apologies to Johnny Mercer.) Is it our job to be able to detect and describe the balance?

Brad Hathaway, Washington