2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

My picks for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama:

  1. Ain’t No Mo’
  2. one in two
  3. Greater Clements
  4. Octet
  5. A Strange Loop
    • The official winner!
  6. Endlings 
  7. The Michaels
    • Here’s the thing: it’ll be a crime if Richard Nelson never wins a Pulitzer for one of his “family” plays. At this point, we need a Lord of the Rings: Return of the King / Academy Award for Best Picture-type situation; the latest installment might not be totally deserving of the big prize on its own, but it can be used to celebrate the achievement of the series at large.
  8. Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

The Pulitzer race is trickier to assess from my outsider’s vantage-point, because the full submission list is never made public (if only!). Unlike my season recap, which encompasses every production I saw that opened over the last 365 day, the eligibility period for the Pulitzers adheres to the calendar year, and is not tied to specific productions. Rather, it’s a text-based award (more on that in a bit), and often the powers-that-be will enter their work to qualify in a different year than when it premieres in New York City (or elsewhere). For instance, did the likes of What to Send Up When It Goes Down and Slave Play wait to join the competitive fray until their higher-profile productions in 2019 (which can be a smart move, for awareness’ sake), or were they submitted for consideration around their NYC premieres in 2018?

Given this predicament, I must rely on my own rulings in crafting this list. As such, I go by when I first encounter the shows.

Then there’s the question of how to evaluate the field. The Pulitzers describe the assessment criteria like so: “For a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.” Vague, right? Though any artistic award boils down to how individual adjudicators subjectively define for themselves what it means to be deserving of the award, I view “dealing with American life” as a lens to appraise the work through. In short: it’s a show by an American, about America. To me, this constitutes awarding not the best show that happens to deal with America (every show set in America is almost inherently a commentary on the country), but the show that “best” deals with America specifically. So, again, my list above is not ranked in order of their overall quality, but rather in terms of how well they wrestle with the ongoing American experiment.

Two shows worth noting fall outside the Pulitzer’s stated parameters:

  • Is This a Room
    • Much of the play’s text is unoriginal — its source is an official government transcript, translated verbatim from page to stage — but can a production be a text in itself? The staging added to the original text elevates it into one of the year’s profoundest explorations of America (this also applies to Daniel Fish’s production of White Noise, based on Don DeLillo’s novel, with dialogue comprised almost exclusively of edited excerpts from it).
  • The Lehman Brothers
    • Stefano Massini’s not an American playwright, but if the Pulitzer’s dedicated to honoring shows about the United States, why are non-Americans exempt from recognition? Sometimes, not living amongst the trees affords a more enlightening perspective on the nature of the forest.

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