For the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, the 17-member Pulitzer board rejected the three finalists selected by its own five-member Drama jury, instead awarding the Pulitzer to “Next to Normal.”This is an old story. The Pulitzer for Drama began in 1917 (although no play that year was deemed fit). After various controversies, the New York Drama Critics Circle Awards were started in 1935 specifically to counter the Pulitzer’s reluctance to recognize “morally questionable” drama — like Eugene O’Neill’s. Eventually the Drama Pulitzer modified its morals clause, but that wary spirit persists in a reluctance to recognize the new and a decided preference for shows staged in New York, especially if still running and preferably on Broadway, so the (heavily New York-centric) board members who don’t usually go to the theater can play last-minute, mid-town catch-up. The board’s distrust of its own jury’s recommendations was signaled recently when the jury was instructed not to rank its choices but simply to present a pool of three names from which the senior group could pick a favorite — or, as in this case, not pick one at all.
This year’s frustrated drama jury was made up of Charles McNulty (chair), critic of the LA Times; John Clum, Duke University drama professor; Nilo Cruz, playwright; David Rooney, just fired chief theater critic of Variety (scroll down this page for more on that); and Hedy Weiss, long-time Chicago Sun-Times theater and dance critic. Their recommendations were Rajiv Joseph’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” Kristoffer Diaz’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” and Sarah Ruhl’s “In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play.”