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Taper basks in glory of 2nd Pulitzer

The announcement Tuesday of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize for “The Millennium Approaches,” the first play in the “Angels in America” two-play odyssey, has once again brought an angel of another creed to Gordon Davidson’s doorstep.

For the second year in a row, Davidson and the Mark Taper Forum (of which he is artistic director) have been instrumental in the creation of a work that has gone on to nab one of the legitimate stage’s most treasured prizes.

Last year Robert Schenkkan won the prize in drama for the nine-play epic “The Kentucky Cycle,” marking the first time the Pulitzer judges had honored a play that had not yet opened in New York. In fact, the judges had to fly to the Taper in Los Angeles in order to see the play.

On Tuesday, it happened again.

“It’s funny, but I had called Michael (Cristofer) this morning to reminisce about how things have changed since he won the Pulitzer,” Davidson said Tuesday, speaking from the basement of the Walter Kerr Theater in New York where “Millennium” opened for its first preview Tuesday night.

When Cristofer’s “The Shadow Box” won the Pulitzer in 1977, Davidson said both he and the playwright were naive about the unwritten rule that the play had to have opened open in New York in order to qualify.

“Michael and I were talking about how innocent we both were back then,” Davidson said. “As it happened, things worked out for it to move from the Taper and eventually open in New York in time. We suddenly found that it was being submitted for consideration.”

Last year Schenkkan and Davidson — with no firm New York production in sight — beat the odds with the “Kentucky” Pulitzer. Kushner’s win on Tuesday has now further cemented the new national scope for Pulitzer eligibility.

“This is the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people,” Davidson said.

In retrospect, this Pulitzer has also accorded more credence to the workshop process — an approach that has received its share of criticism from various voices within the theater world.

“I know that sometimes we get criticized for workshopping a play to death, but in this case, the time we took and the process both helped,” Davidson said. “I think part of it is a tribute to the people involved and especially to the artist we were working with.”

“Millennium” and “Perestroika,” the second play in “Angels,” were commissioned by the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco. Both plays were part of the Taper’s New Works festivals in 1989 and 1990, and “Millennium” was produced as part of the Taper, Too ’90 season. “Millennium” then debuted in London and bothplays ran together for the first time at the Taper this season.

Meanwhile, Davidson is optimistic that a second Pulitzer for a work of this magnitude is a “wonderful statement” for the work being done by theaters.

“First off, I think an award to this kind of work tells audiences that theaters are doing something that is very different than what they are seeing on television or on film,” he said.

“More importantly, it gives writers the courage to write on themes like this, ” Davidson said, referring to “Angels’ ” discussion of gay life and AIDS. “And it tells audiences that it’s OK to encounter this kind of theatrical experience.”

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