In yesterday’s New York Post, Michael Riedel discussed what shows are rumored to be the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The three rumored finalists are Ruined by Lynn Nottage, Becky Shaw by Gina Gionfriddo, and In the Heights.
Wait, In the Heights?
Granted, this is rumored, but it seems a bit out of place on that list. In fact, if you compare it with the other musicals that have on the Pulitzer Prize for drama–Of Thee I Sing, South Pacific, Fiorello!, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, A Chorus Line, Sunday in the Park With George, and Rent–it seems out of place.
This is probably because those plays dealt with a certain topic of importance. Fiorello! deals with Fiorello LaGuardia taking on Tammany Hall. Of Thee I Sing is a bit of a satire about running for president (the protagonist runs on the platform of love). South Pacific takes place during World War II and looks at racial prejudices. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying lampoons corporate America. A Chorus Line looks at dancers that lay their lives bare on the stage at an audition. Sunday in the Park With George looks at a fictionalized Georges Seurat who is immersed in his work, ignoring his mistress, and his great-grandson, George, who is immersed in copying his great-grandfather’s work. Rent looks at poverty, HIV, love, and art in 1989 and 1990 before Alphabet City became so incredibly gentrified.
In the Heights is a very safe musical. It doesn’t really show any grittiness of real life, other than looting after a blackout and some resentment towards a character’s love interest because he isn’t Latino. Many critics have noted it’s sentiment and how there’s too much. Other’s have noted it’s unrealistic and unoriginal. Hilton Als recently described it, in a blurb on Karen Olivio, as “Lin-Manuel Miranda’s queasily overblown ego trip.”
Yes, it has some catchy numbers, it’s the only way I can tolerate hip-hop and it’s a lovely show, but it’s not really new or daring.
Let’s look at Becky Shaw and Ruined: Nottage’s play looks at the war crimes in the Congo and the attroceties committed against women. It also takes place in a brothel and was influenced by Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. It’s received critical acclaim. Becky Shaw also received critical acclaim, except from John Simon, and looks at class and sexual relations in today’s society and skewers them.
If we’re looking at something daring, Becky Shaw and Ruined work well. And, as the column points out, it’s a bit interesting that reasons to be pretty isn’t one of these rumored plays. But that may have something to do with the fact that some critics felt that it lost it’s cajones in comparison to Neil LaBute’s other works.
Granted, if In the Heights is on the finalists list, that’s one thing. And if it’s the winner, it wouldn’t be the first time the Pultizer Prize for Drama went to a show that was a head scratcher.
After all, Glass Menagerie lost to Harvey.
Update: Upstaged asks why it’s not on Broadway.