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7 New Works That Could Win the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Will Lin-Manuel Miranda take home the prestigious award for Hamilton? Or will Lynn Nottage receive it for Sweat? TheaterMania looks at some top contenders.

On April 18, Columbia University will announce this year's selection for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, an award presented to an original play by an American author that preferably deals with American life. A bumper crop of worthy candidates emerged this past year, with works that focus on extremely different yet thoroughly urgent subject matter. Here are our top choices.

1. Hamilton
Book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Productions: Public Theater (2015); Broadway (2015)

Miranda's juggernaut is perhaps the most obvious candidate for this year's Pulitzer. With a multiracial cast and a score that infuses traditional theater music with rap, hip-hop, and R&B, Miranda, a past finalist for In the Heights, reinvents the American Founding Fathers for the population of America circa modern day, while pushing the boundaries of musical-theater even further than many believed they could go. If it wins, this groundbreaking work would be the ninth musical to receive the honor in the prize's 99-year history.

2. Eclipsed
Written by Danai Gurira
Productions: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (2009); Center Theatre Group (2009); Yale Repertory Theatre (2009); Public Theater (2015); Broadway (2016)

Gurira paints vivid portraits of strong, disparate women who live as sex slaves to a general during the Liberian Civil War. Infused with as much humor as sadness, this inspiring work, currently on Broadway after several regional runs, presents a world rarely seen onstage, and tells an empowering story about survival against the bleakest odds. Though it premiered in 2009, production sources say it was submitted for Pulitzer contention during this current cycle. Working against Eclipsed is the fact that it doesn't deal with American life, which the Pulitzer committee generally prefers.

Pascale Armand, Lupita Nyong'o, and Saycon Sengbloh star in Danai Gurira's Eclipsed.
(© Joan Marcus)

3. Sweat
Written by Lynn Nottage
Productions: Oregon Shakespeare Festival (2015); Arena Stage (2015)

Nottage, a past winner for her play Ruined, spent several years researching for Sweat. In the drama, she draws on interviews she conducted with the citizens of Reading, Pa., a city named the poorest in America in 2011. It tells a timely, all-too-familiar tale about the decline of unions, the outsourcing of jobs, and the struggles of proud, blue-collar, middle-class workers trying to find a new way of life as their jobs disappear. It speaks to this modern working world in a way that few other plays do.

Kevin Kenerly as Brucie and Tramell Tillman as Chris in Lynn Nottage's Sweat, directed by Kate Woriskey, at Arena Stage.
(© C. Stanley Photography)

4. Gloria
Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Production: Vineyard Theatre (2015)

This sharp and terrifying black comedy ends its first act with a bang — several of them, actually. After a shocking act of violence disrupts the lives of a group of ruthless young assistant magazine editors, several of them must figure out what to do next, and how to capitalize on the events that took place. A satire on both the publishing industry and the world of grief-based entertainment, Gloria is a stunning, hilarious exploration of present-day media sensationalism.

Ryan Spahn, Jennifer Kim, and Catherine Combs share a scene in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Gloria at the Vineyard Theatre.
(© Carol Rosegg)

5. The Humans
Written by Stephen Karam
Productions: American Theater Company (2014); Roundabout Theatre Company (2015); Broadway (2016)

Having been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2012 for his off-Broadway play Sons of the Prophet, Karam returns to depicting familial relationships with this breakthrough tragicomedy that is relatively simple in structure and small in scale. Set in 95 minutes of real time, a working class Irish-American family gathers for Thanksgiving at the new Chinatown duplex of one of the daughters and her older boyfriend. As wine is consumed and secrets are revealed, this 21st-century clan gradually realizes that they will never be the same. Karam makes viewers feel like they are a fly on the wall, party to total destruction, as we begin to understand that perhaps the scariest thing of all is to just be human.

6. Significant Other
Written by Joshua Harmon
Production: Roundabout Theater Company (2015)

As his best girlfriends get married one by one, a 28-year-old gay man falls into despair as he begins to wonder when his Mr. Right will come along. Yet sexuality is merely a label in Harmon's astutely observed tragicomedy, one that presents a classic quest story — the eternal search for long-lasting companionship — through a distinctly contemporary lens. Any twentysomething will relate to these characters and sympathize with their beautifully wrought agony.

Lindsay Mendez, Carra Patterson, Sas Goldberg, and Gideon Glick in Significant Other, a play by Joshua Harmon at the Laura Pels Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

7. The Christians
Written by Lucas Hnath
Productions: Humana Festival (2014); Playwrights Horizons (2015); Center Theatre Group (2015)

A pastor gets up before the members of his megachurch with a startling pronouncement: After a conversation with God, it is no longer the church's policy to believe in hell. Thus begins The Christians, Lucas Hnath's probing drama about the fallout from such a revelation. The characters are complex, their positions fiercely intelligent, and Hnath, through a unique blend of dialogue and narration, paints a thrillingly vivid portrait of the disparities of religion in present-day America. More than that, by the end, the church becomes a microcosm of American life, mirroring the everyday discussions we currently have around the dinner table and exposing the self-serving motives behind our beliefs.

Linda Powell, Andrew Garman, Larry Powell, and Philip Kerr in Lucas Hnath's The Christians at Playwrights Horizons.
(© Joan Marcus)