Drama Pulitzer, 4

Drama Pulitzer, 4

Some are wondering if Charles McNulty and other Pulitzer drama panelists should resign in protest. There is precedent. But actually, the jury is reappointed afresh each year — which is not to say that certain critics haven’t reappeared on it often, especially back in the days when it was pretty much all New York. (That was loosened up when some well-known ATCA critics lobbied the board to recognize that there’s a large country out there.) I imagine that Charles’ fine column already lessens the chance he’d be reappointed.

Back at the beginning, a jury of three made one recommendation, which the Board took or didn’t. When overruled in 1934, one panelist wrote, “They don’t want dramatic experts any more. They want office boys. No self-respecting, intelligent critic would serve on such a jury.” All three 1934 panelists refused reappointment the following year. Thereafter, the jury was told to submit a ranked list of three, and most recently, an unranked list, from which the board could pick the one they liked, or, as this year, ignore. Shockingly, 15 years there has been no Drama Pulitzer at all, usually because of its old morals clause which some years ruled out Eugene O’Neill, Lillian Hellman, etc. Frustration with the Pulitzers led to the 1935 founding of the New York Drama Critics Circle, to give its own awards, although those are limited to NYC, while the Pulitzers claim to be national — although they rarely are. A show still running on Broadway has a decided edge, because even board members who don’t go to the theater can rush to see it at the last minute without having to go downtown.

So all along there’s been gradual erosion of the critics’ role in the Drama Pulitzer, with a resulting tendency to blandness. (That Next to Normal is a fine show doesn’t disprove the rule.) To make the best of this familiar uproar, let’s say that theater is a lively, in-your-face art that stirs up controversy — and one about which even amateurs know what they like, or think they do.

Chris Rawson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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