The 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama has been awarded to Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks, it was announced this afternoon. The prize, which includes a certificate and a cash award of $7,500, is presented to "a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life."
Parks' play about the intense rivalry between two brothers was produced at the Public Theater last season, starring Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Wright and directed by George C. Wolfe. The play reopened on Broadway last night (April 7) with actor/rapper Mos Def replacing Cheadle.
The Pulitzer win is yet another in a long line of accolades for Topdog/Underdog, which was a hit during its first run and received mostly positive reviews for its Broadway transfer. In his unqualified rave for the current production, New York Times chief drama critic Ben Brantley wrote: "Tighter and tenser than it was at the Public last spring...Topdog/Underdog now emerges as the most exciting new home-grown play to hit Broadway since Mr. Wolfe's production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America." Associated Press critic Michael Kuchwara described Parks' use of language in the play as "strong, rhythmic, almost poetic but still grounded in everyday existence." There have been a few dissenting opinions, including those of the New York Daily News' Howard Kissel and TheaterMania's own David Finkle; the latter found the play "entertaining but ultimately insubstantial."
Suzan-Lori Parks, a 1985 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000 and the MacArthur Fellowship in 2001. Her plays include The Sinner's Place, Devotees in the Garden of Love, The America Play, In the Blood, and the Obie-winning Venus. She also penned the screenplay for Spike Lee's 1996 film Girl 6.
Parks is the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The other finalists for this year's prize were Rebecca Gilman's The Glory of Living and Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman.
The retreat includes lectures by great American playwrights and nightly trips to both Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, often followed by talk-back sessions with the shows' writers and creative teams. The centerpiece of the retreat is an intensive series of workshops in which the young writers work individually on short pieces to be given staged readings in the professionally produced Seven-Minute Play Festival.
"In the past, we have had such notables as Alfred Uhry, Wendy Wasserstein, and John Weidman lecture on writing for the professional theater," says Young Playwrights' Ian Grunes. The retreat provides a valuable opportunity for participants to meet professional artists of such caliber, as well as to make connections with other fledgling playwrights.
Only 10-15 students are chosen to attend the retreat each year. "We tend to keep the number small so that each writer receives individual attention," explains Grunes. Students are picked based on a variety of criteria, including writing samples and recommendations. Tuition for the program is $1,390 but some financial aid is available. The application deadline is May 1, 2002. Visit www.youngplaywrights.org or contact Ian Grunes at 212-594-5440 for more information about the Urban Retreat and other programs sponsored by Young Playwrights Inc.