British playwright Alan Bennett’s “The History Boys” took the New York Drama Critics Circle’s play plaudits on Thursday, as the group mirrored the Pulitzer Prize committee in its decision to shut out American drama from the honors list this year.
The winning play, about an eccentric English teacher and his class of gifted students vying for acceptance into Oxford and Cambridge, opened to near-unanimously strong reviews on Broadway April 23 in a limited-run transfer of Nicholas Hytner’s National Theater production, with its original London cast intact.
Bennett’s play beat two other trans-Atlantic imports, Martin McDonagh’s “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” and Conor McPherson’s “Shining City.”
Critics Circle bylaws indicate that in years when the top nod goes to a foreign play, a second award to an American playwright may be presented. While there was considerable support for homegrown dramas “Rabbit Hole,” “Red Light Winter,” “Defiance” and “In the Continuum,” the minimum number of votes required for a clear-cut winner was not obtained.
The org’s optional award for musical went, by a wide margin, to the frothy metatheatrical homage to 1920s tuners, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which opened on Broadway May 1. Runners-up were Off Broadway cult tuner “Grey Gardens,” which is tipped for a Rialto transfer next season, and the hit Broadway biomusical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, “Jersey Boys.”
Special citations went to director-designer John Doyle, orchestrator Sarah Travis and the company of “Sweeney Todd,” the current Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s iconic 1979 musical, as well as to Christine Ebersole for her dual-role performance as Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Little Edie in “Grey Gardens.”
A proposal was made to introduce a performance award as a permanent fixture of the Critics Circle honors, but members rejected the idea, instead opting for special acting citations when merited, starting with Ebersole.