'Rabbit Hole' honored with drama prize

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Bypassing judges’ recommended shortlist of finalists, the Pulitzer board has awarded its 2007 prize for drama to David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Rabbit Hole,” about a woman mired in grief and anger over the loss of her young son.

And for only the second time in its history, a jazz work, “Sound Grammar” by Ornette Coleman, was awarded the music prize.

“I’m staggered,” Lindsay-Abaire told Daily Variety. “This was a very different kind of play for me to write. What business did David Lindsay-Abaire have writing a naturalistic drama? This shows it’s good to take risks.”

“Rabbit Hole” had its world premiere in February 2006 on Broadway in Manhattan Theater Club’s production, directed by Daniel Sullivan and starring Cynthia Nixon, Mary Catherine Garrison, John Slattery, Tyne Daly and John Gallagher Jr. Nixon won the Tony award for her role.

A sober examination of the challenges facing a family following the death of a child, the drama marked a departure for Lindsay-Abaire from the eccentric comedy of his plays “Fuddy Meers,” “Wonder of the World” and “Kimberly Akimbo.”

The playwright is working on the musical adaptation of “Shrek,” scheduled for an out-of-town tryout in 2008.

In January, it was announced that Lindsay-Abaire will pen a bigscreen adaptation of “Rabbit Hole” for Fox Searchlight, with Nicole Kidman to star and produce through her Blossom Films banner.

While it’s standard for a finalist nominated by the judging panel to be awarded the Pulitzer, the board has a history of departing from those guidelines to consider its own choice when a majority vote is not achieved on any of the shortlisted works. The decision last year not to award a Pulitzer for drama may have influenced this year’s choice of a play with a Broadway pedigree, rather than the lower-profile shortlist put forward by the judges.

Other plays nominated for the $10,000 Pulitzer, which goes to an American author for a work dealing with American life, were Rinde Eckert’s “Orpheus X,” Eisa Davis’ “Bulrusher” and Quiara Alegria Hudes’ “Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue.”

” ‘Rabbit Hole’ was mentioned favorably in the jury’s deliberations, and the board decided to take another look at it,” said Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler. “We call it ‘going back into the pile.’ “

“This is very encouraging,” added Lindsay-Abaire. “I was incredibly disappointed last year when they chose not to pick a winner. Playwrights need all the attention they can get. It’s so seldom the spotlight is thrown on them.”

This is the second year in which the Pulitzer winner was chosen from a play that premiered during the preceding calendar year and not from the season-to-season lineup as in previous years.

In music, Coleman’s “Sound Grammar,” a concert recording made in Germany in 2005, follows Wynton Marsalis’ 1997 composition “Blood on the Fields” as the only jazz works to win the Pulitzer. Coleman, who had not issued a new recording in a decade, received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in February.

“Sound Grammar” topped the other finalists in the category: “Grendel” by Elliot Goldenthal, Julie Taymor and J.D. McClatchy, which the Los Angeles Opera premiered in June, and “Astral Canticle” by Augusta Read Thomas, for which the Chicago Symphony Orchestra supplied the debut.

In addition to “Rabbit Hole,” earlier speculation about this year’s top legit contenders had centered on the musicals “Spring Awakening” and “Grey Gardens,” both of which are believed to have been disadvantaged in consideration by being based on previously existing source material. August Wilson’s “Radio Golf,” Keith Bunin’s “The Busy World is Hushed” and Douglas Carter Beane’s “The Little Dog Laughed” also had come up in preliminary industry discussions.

Other 2007 Pulitzer winners include Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” for fiction, Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff’s “The Race Beat” for history, Debby Applegate’s “The Most Famous Man in America” for biography, Natasha Trethewey’s “Native Guard” for poetry, and Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower” for general nonfiction.

Special citations were awarded to author Ray Bradbury and the late jazz legend John Coltrane.

(Phil Gallo in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

And the winners are…

FICTION
“The Road” — by Cormac McCarthy (Alfred A. Knopf)

DRAMA
“Rabbit Hole” — by David Lindsay-Abaire

HISTORY
“The Race Beat” — by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff (Alfred A. Knopf)

BIOGRAPHY
“The Most Famous Man in America” — by Debby Applegate (Doubleday)

POETRY
“Native Guard” — by Natasha Trethewey (Houghton Mifflin)

GENERAL NONFICTION
“The Looming Tower — by Lawrence Wright (Alfred A. Knopf)

MUSIC
“Sound Grammar” — by Ornette Coleman

SPECIAL CITATIONS
Ray Bradbury
John Coltrane

PUBLIC SERVICE
The Wall Street Journal

BREAKING NEWS REPORTING
Staff — Oregonian, Portland

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING
Brett Blackledge — Birmingham (Ala.) News

EXPLANATORY REPORTING
Kenneth R. Weiss, Usha Lee McFarling and Rick Loomis — Los Angeles Times

LOCAL REPORTING
Debbie Cenziper — Miami Herald

NATIONAL REPORTING
Charlie Savage — Boston Globe

INTERNATIONAL REPORTING
Staff — Wall Street Journal

FEATURE WRITING
Andrea Elliott — New York Times

COMMENTARY
Cynthia Tucker — Atlanta Journal-Constitution

CRITICISM
Jonathan Gold — LA Weekly

EDITORIAL WRITING
Editorial Board — New York Daily News

EDITORIAL CARTOONING
Walt Handelsman — Newsday, Long Island, NY

BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY
Oded Balilty — Associated Press

FEATURE PHOTOGRAPHY
Renee C. Byer — Sacramento Bee

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