George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism
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The Nathan Will
With his preamble "it is my object and desire to encourage and assist in developing the art of drama criticism and the stimulation of intelligent playgoing," the late George Jean Nathan provided in his will for a prize known as the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. The prize consists of the annual net income of half of Mr. Nathan's estate, which "shall be paid to the American who has written the best piece of drama criticism during the theatrical year (July 1 to June 30), whether it is an article, an essay, treatise or book."
The trust is of such size that the prize is the richest and one of the most distinguished in the American theatre. The annual award now amounts to $10,000. In addition, the winner receives a trophy symbolic of, and attesting to, the award.
The George Jean Nathan Award Symbol
The picture inscribed on the Nathan Award Medallion was devised in 1969. It features three roses, flowers that symbolize the critic's praise, with their thorns symbolizing the critic's scorn.
Selection of Award Winners
Mr. Nathan directed in his will that the prize is “to be awarded annually by a majority vote of the then heads of the English departments of Cornell, Princeton, and Yale Universities.” This committee of three has functioned since the award was established. The chair of the English department of Cornell University heads the selection committee. In recent years the committee has also included drama specialists from each university.
Those eligible for the award are authors, critics, or reviewers who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States and whose works are published in books, newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals, or in electronic form, or broadcast on television or radio programs. Except for books, all entries for the prize must have been published in the United States. In view of Mr. Nathan’s interest in the current theatre, the selection committee will regard with special interest writings in dramatic criticism dealing with current or recent productions of the legitimate theatre, but the award may also be given for an outstanding work of criticism dealing with drama of the past. It is the aim of the selection committee to foster the spirit of the award by honoring criticism which demonstrates the highest level of critical thinking about theatre.
Submission of Entries
Although the selection committee will make an effort to review publications in which eligible work may appear, any author or publisher may submit eligible entries for the award to the appropriate members of the selection committee whose names and addresses are listed below. The deadline for receipt of nominations is September 1, 2019.* Newspaper and magazine submissions should comprise no more than a dozen articles and include the date and (if appropriate) the name of the publication where the entries appeared. All materials submitted for the 2018-2019 prize must have been published between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019.
Chair, Department of English
22 McCosh Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544
Daily Newspapers to:
Chair, Department of English
Goldwin Smith Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Weekly Newspapers, TV, Radio Reviews, and Electronic Publications & Periodicals to:
Chair, Department of English
New Haven, CT 06520
*Although individual submissions are not required, an entry form is available for your convenience:
Electronic submissions are strongly encouraged and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Biography of George Jean Nathan
George Jean Nathan (1882-1958) was the leading American drama critic of his time. Active from 1905 to 1958, he published thirty-four books on the theatre, co-edited The Smart Set and The American Mercury with H. L. Mencken, and zealously practiced "destructive" theatre criticism. Nathan wrote during the most important period of our theatre's history and set critical standards that are still being followed. In his will he established the annual George Jean Nathan Award for drama criticism.
George Jean Nathan was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on February 14, 1882. Initially Nathan was educated by tutors at home and while abroad. After Nathan's father left the family, Nathan's mother took them to Cleveland, Ohio, where he was graduated from that city's high school. On his mother's side, the German Nirdlingers, there were rugged pioneers who literally crossed the country in a covered wagon from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to settle Fort Wayne. Nathan's maternal grandfather was one of the founders of this frontier trading post. Two of Nathan's maternal uncles were to influence his career as a drama critic. Charles Frederic Nirdlinger was a playwright and drama critic who encouraged Nathan's entrance into journalism. Uncle Samuel Nixon-Nirdlinger was an important theater manager who secured free tickets for Nathan's family.
On his father's side Nathan was French; his father, Charles Naret Nathan, was the son of a Parisian attorney. He was one of the owners of the Eugene Peret vineyards in France and of a coffee plantation in Brazil, but his primary income came from his wholesale liquor business. Nathan's father spoke eight languages fluently and took frequent business trips to Europe. All through Nathan's childhood the family spent alternate summers in Europe. Young George was thus brought up in an aristocratic and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Nevertheless, Nathan harbored a lifelong dread that his family's Jewish origin would be exposed. He suppressed any mention of his Jewishness and even fabricated a story that his mother attended the same convent school, St. Mary's Academy, as Eugene O'Neill's mother. Mrs. Nathan had converted later in her life and several of his uncles had attended the Catholic boys' school affiliated with St. Mary's Academy, but there is no record of her attending St. Mary's.
Nathan attended Cornell University where he was a champion fencer. He also edited the Sun, the college newspaper, and the Widow, Cornell's humor magazine. After being graduated in 1904, he did not pursue a master's degree from the University of Bologna. This canard stems from the sham biographies Nathan and Mencken circulated during their Smart Set years. It is an example of his occasionally forced humor--who but Nathan would claim a degree from "Baloney U." In fact, Nathan took a cub reporter's job at the New York Herald that his uncle secured for him. Two years later Nathan managed to get himself a third-string reviewer's post, and with his notice of Bedford's Hope, the most important career in 20th century American dramatic criticism was launched.
Dissatisfied with the daily grind at the Herald, Nathan left the newspaper and began writing for magazines. It was here that he began to make his mark as critic. In 1908 he joined The Smart Set as its dramatic critic and met H. L. Mencken, its book reviewer. The two became friends and in 1914 assumed joint editorship of The Smart Set. Here was one of the great partnerships in American letters, for Mencken and Nathan were the arbiters, if not dictators, for what the "flaming youth" of 1920s America deemed worthwhile reading. Nathan and Mencken were much more than trend selectors though, for in the pages of their magazines appeared the most influential and artistically promising writing of the era. A satirical poem of the day, "Mencken, Nathan and God," summed up their particular hold on the literate public of the 20s.
Nathan's personal life assumed a routine. He settled into a bachelor's apartment at New York's Royalton Hotel. He remained there for forty-five years, the rooms gradually filling with books and manuscripts. Nathan was romantically linked with numerous actresses throughout his career. His most famous amour was Lillian Gish, who may have broken off the relationship when she learned of his Jewishness. Nathan finally married Julie Haydon, after a fourteen-year courtship, in 1956. More than the most feared first-nighter in New York, Nathan was a renowned man-about-town (and the model for the acerbic critic Addison De Witt in the film All About Eve). He had his own table at the 21 Club and was a regular at the Stork Club, where even the omnipotent columnist Walter Winchell deferred to him.
Nathan is most important as a drama critic, though. His crusades against the buncombe of the Broadway show-shop and his avowedly "destructive" methods earned him the hatred of those whose work he scorned, and since he worked hard to live up to his own personal credo: "be indifferent," he made few friends. Among the chosen few, however, were two playwrights, Eugene O'Neill and Sean O'Casey. Another writer of Irish background, George Bernard Shaw, considered him "intelligent playgoer number one."
Nathan liked very little, but when he decided to champion a playwright--or a performer--there was nothing he would not do. He never hesitated to use his influence with producers to get plays put on, nor did he hesitate to give suggestions to authors or directors about revisions or casting before plays went into rehearsal. Nathan knew of O'Neill's early experimental plays that were being performed in Greenwich Village, and he campaigned relentlessly to get the playwright produced on Broadway. In 1920 O'Neill's Beyond the Horizon was mounted on the Great White Way by John Williams--due in part to Nathan's influence with him. For the rest of his career Nathan was O'Neill's champion. He wrote in 1932: "O'Neill alone and single-handed waded through the dismal swamplands of American drama, bleak, squashy, and oozing sticky goo, and alone and single-handed bore out of them the water lily that no American had found there before him."
Nathan tells us that he chose the theatre as his sphere because it was a place for "the intelligent exercise of the emotions." In his books, Nathan does not so much expound a particular theory or methodology as reveal his own criteria for theatrical excellence. He is an impressionistic critic who argues that personal taste is the ultimate critical arbiter. Nathan established the standard to which all responsible drama critics adhere: the critic owes allegiance to his or her own principles, not to the theatre as an institution.
Nonetheless, Nathan's critical hauteur was often at odds with the cap-and-bells style in which he wrote. He is also part of a tradition in American theatre criticism. He follows in the wake of Irving, Poe and Whitman, all of whom fought against contemporary critical trends. Nathan demanded a new and more serious American theatre, a theatre that responded to artistic needs rather than box office appeal. He deplored the pretensions of David Belasco's productions and the all-American banality of Augustus Thomas. (Nathan was no bluenose, though. He reveled in the Ziegfeld Follies and coined the term "ecdysiast" for Gypsy Rose Lee's profession.) Not the least of his contributions to the theatre was his unflinching critical independence. Nathan's courage forced the puffsters and pseudo-academic hacks of criticism to flee the field.
Finally, Nathan was able to wield his influence by explaining the differences between the theatre that he saw and the theatre that he wanted to see. He did so with a singular, if sometimes antic, style that reached a huge audience. Nathan's erudition, mingled with a zany and breathtaking wit, made him the most famous, highest paid, widely read and translated theatre critic in the world. He created modern American drama criticism and was crucial to the development of the modern American theatre and its drama.
Nathan wrote over forty books, almost all of them collections of his criticism. The most important are The Critic and the Drama (1922), in which he explains some principles behind his criticism; The Autobiography of an Attitude (1925) and The Intimate Notebooks of George Jean Nathan (1932), which reveal critical insights and show the reader something of Nathan's compelling theatrical persona; and The Theatre, The Drama, The Girls (1921), which is probably his best book. His brilliant Theatre Book of the Year series is much more than a theatrical annual: here he intersperses essays about the nature of drama, of comedy or tragedy, of the decline of burlesque and so forth with reviews of each season's shows (1942-43 to 1950-51).
Thomas Quinn Curtiss's The Magic Mirror (1960), which contains an especially good introduction, and Charles S. Angoff's The World of George Jean Nathan (1998), with an introduction by Angoff and an epilogue by Patricia Angelin, are the best of the Nathan anthologies. There are also outstanding collections of correspondence: Nancy and Arthur Roberts's "As Ever, Gene:" The Letters of Eugene O'Neill to George Jean Nathan (1987) and Robert Lowery and Patricia Angelin's "My Very Dear Sean:" George Jean Nathan to Sean O'Casey, Letters and Articles (1985). As for books about Nathan, Isaac Goldberg's The Theatre of George Jean Nathan (1926) is a good account of his career up to that time. It also reprints his play "The Eternal Mystery" and a cynical essay on love that Nathan authored at age 16. Constance Frick's The Dramatic Criticism of George Jean Nathan (1943) contains additional material on Nathan's later years. My own book, George Jean Nathan and the Making of Modern American Drama Criticism (2000), which contains a bibliography, is the only study of Nathan's entire career.
Thomas F. Connolly
Please view descriptions for each winner after the listing by date. These biographical sketches identify the writings for which each winner received the Nathan Award and attempt to give a brief sense of their careers and accomplishments. The sketches for recent winners extend only to the time when the award was received. Those for earlier winners may take a longer view. We will be most grateful for corrections and (brief) additions, especially from the winners themselves. Such material may be sent to the Chair of the Nathan Committee at email@example.com.
Soraya Nadia McDonald, cultural critic for The Undefeated, a website that explores the intersection of race, sports and culture, has been named winner of the 2019-20 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism.
The award committee cited the “ambitious reach and bracing common-sense of her criticism” in selecting McDonald for this year’s award. The committee comprises the heads of the English departments of Cornell, Princeton and Yale universities, and is administered by Cornell’s Department of English in the College of Arts and Sciences.
McDonald focuses on how the American theater engages – or fails to engage – the subject of race. In her reviews and articles about the 2018-19 season, the committee cited how McDonald probed her discomfort at the voluntary slavery enacted in “White Noise” and “Slave Play”; indicted “To Kill a Mockingbird” for its reliance on “white saviors” and “cartoon racists”; identified the constricting norms of black masculinity (and the resistant potential of music) in “Choir Boy”; and located new work by Donja Love, Aleshea Harris and Patricia Ione Lloyd in the long history of plays about “the overall cheapness of black life.”
The prize committee particularly praised McDonald’s review of “King Kong,” marked, they wrote, “by her characteristic sharpness and clarity,” which zeroed in on the casting of a black actress as Ann Darrow – a choice few other critics noted and none studied as vigorously. In recalling how enthusiastically the 1933 film promoted stereotypes linking “animal savagery” to “black male predation,” and how important whiteness is to Darrow’s narrative function, McDonald pinpointed – and punctured – the incoherent post-racial fantasy of this new version, the committee wrote.
“Characters can be racialized, or they can be raceless, but they can’t be both,” McDonald wrote. “The audience is asked to see Darrow as simply a lady and Kong as a tortured circus spectacle of an animal. But taking in ‘King Kong’ without some twinge of ethical compromise requires either Magritte-level mental acrobatics or complete ignorance of the role of race in American history.”
|2014-2015||Brian Eugenio Herrera and Chris Jones|
|2011-2012||Kenneth Gross and Jonathan Kalb|
|2006-2007||H. Scott McMillin|
|1996-1997||Ben Brantley, Elinor Fuchs, and Todd London|
|1993-1994||Marvin Carlson and John Lahr|
|1980-1981||Carolyn Clay and Sylviane Gold|
|1974-1975||No Award Made|
|1965-1966||Eric Russell Bentley|
2015-2016: Shonni Enelow, Method Acting and Its Discontents: On American Psycho-Drama (Northwestern Univ. Press, 2015)
In Method Acting and Its Discontents: On American Psycho-Drama, Shonni Enelow offers a forceful and timely rethinking of the American theater’s dominant acting theory. In chapters ranging across Broadway and Off Broadway plays, Hollywood and experimental films, and classroom sessions at the Actors Studio, she probes the Method’s assumptions, identifies its blindspots, and tests it against the tumultuous politics of the 1950s and 1960s. At the center of the book are astute readings of works by Tennessee Williams, William Inge, James Baldwin, and Jean Genet. Enelow “follow[s] the traces Method acting…has left on texts” as these four playwrights engage questions of performance, memory, psychology, and identification. She continues to seek those traces, and to map sites of resistance, in the culture at large. The highlight of her book is a persuasive critique of the Method’s representation of race, and its promises of universalism, as the American theater made room for competing acting methods in the 1960s.
2014-15: Brian Eugenio Herrera for Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in Twentieth-Century U.S. Popular Performance, and Chris Jones for his theater criticism for the Chicago Tribune
In Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in Twentieth-Century U.S. Popular Performance, Brian Eugenio Herrera tracks the growing impact of Latina/o artists on, and Latina/o representation in the American theatre and, more broadly, American culture. Focusing on what he describes as "an evident fascination with the people, regions, traditions, and styles we might today recognize as Latina/o," Herrera documents a range of performances that reflect these "shifting articulations of ethnic identity" for Latina/o populations in the U.S. Herrera's compelling study considers a number of iconic performers and theatrical works, yet the Nathan Committee, in selecting this monograph, notes in particular his outstanding analysis of the 1959 musical West Side Story and its continuing theatrical legacy for these issues of Latina/o representation. Situating this landmark production in the contexts of Puerto Rican immigration, the U.S. economy, and the postwar political climate, Herrera demonstrates how this one theatrical work continues to resonate powerfully through its images of "authentic" ethnic identify and inter-cultural dynamics.
For 15 years, Chris Jones has contributed discerning, compassionate, and eloquent theater criticism to the Chicago Tribune. Equipped with a panoramic understanding of contemporary playwriting and directing, his knowledge of Chicago theater history is especially deep. Every review is an opportunity to extend his ongoing chronicle of the city’s leading theater companies, to map hitherto undiscovered regions of the cultural landscape, and to add chapters to his unfolding biographies of its most ambitious playwrights, directors, and actors. That commitment allows him to write as a trusted insider: his most engaging reviews are generous with suggestions for the further development of promising productions. Of his numerous memorable pieces from 2014-15, one stands out. The Project(s), a new play presented by the American Theater Company, addresses the daunting conditions facing residents of Chicago’s housing complexes. Jones’s review weighs in forcefully on issues of public policy and racial politics even as he locates the play’s virtues and limits. Of one especially searing scene, depicting a child’s failed attempt to save his dying brother, Jones writes: “Driving home from the theater…I just could not lose that image from my head.” Neither could Jones’s readers, thanks to his lucid prose.
2013-14: Michael Feingold, columnist for the website TheatreMania.com
After many years of reviewing new productions for The Village Voice, Michael Feingold has recently expanded his scope in his bi-monthly column, "Thinking About Theatre," which explores theater in a broader context. His essays engage with a wide range of topics, from particular works, performers, and playwrights to more general aspects of theater culture and history. Working in an unusual format in which each column appears in two parts allows Feingold to "stage" his thoughts about theater almost like a two-act play, with a weeklong intermission that gives his readers time to ponder the questions raised in the first half while anticipating their resolution in the second.
The committee was particularly taken with two pieces Feingold published during the 2013-14 theater season. "Secrets of Pleasurable Theatergoing" offers a series of slightly tongue-in-cheek directives to playgoers, some of them deliberately self-negating (e.g., "Celebrity doesn't matter--unless you think it does"). A more poignant column, "Lives, Saved or Lost," ponders the tragically early death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and other figures, while celebrating the longevity of theater artists like the nonagenarian lyricist Sheldon Harnick.
In receiving the 2013-14 Nathan Award, Michael Feingold joins an exlusive club of two-time winners that includes Jonathan Kalb, John Lahr, Michael Goldman, and Robert Brustein. Feingold previously received the Nathan Award in 1996 for his reviewing for The Village Voice.
2012-13: Scott Brown, theater critic for New York magazine
Scott Brown's theater criticism in New York magazine is distinguished for its wit, panoramic attentiveness and, most striking, empathy. Brown is a patient and probing reviewer, able to transcend the limits of his form with sentences that track a production in time. He is equally sensitive to the grace-notes in an actor's performance and to a playwright's implicit arguments with a genre. He perceives the "symphonic" structure of a director's interpretation and subtler changes in audience temperature. At his best when marking degrees of a performer's vulnerability, he records fluctuations in his own thinking, resisting the moment when his responses must coalesce into a mere opinion.
Two reviews in 2012 display many of Brown's virtues and, not incidentally, stand in unexpected dialogue with one another. In his discussion of David Levine's Habit, an 8-hour epic viewed through the windows of a three-dimensional house, Brown locates the traps set for voyeuristic spectators. By contrast, Richard Nelson's Sorry-- "every scene a little psalm"--won't let us stay "outside of this room...We're implicated." Quietly cathartic where Habit is purposefully "anti-transcendent," Sorry dramatizes "not mere change, but something less infinitely plastic. Adjustment." Brown accurately calculates the civic value of this deceptively private work: it creates a "feeling of shared citizenship, one of the things theater was invented to foster."
2011-12: Kenneth Gross for Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life, and Jonathan Kalb for Great Lengths: Seven Works of Marathon Theatre. Since its inception in 1959, the award has been given to multiple winners on only three other occasions. In identifying these two outstanding critical studies, each eminently worthy of this honor, the Award Committee noted these bokks' distinct, yet equally compelling realizations of George Jean Nathan's "object and desire to encourage and assist in developing the art of drama criticism and the stimulation of intelligent playgoing."
"In Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life, Gross offers a brilliantly idiosyncratic meditation on the fascination "wooden acting" exerts over its delighted but often unnerved human audiences. Gross writes with lyrical precision about the ways in which "the hand becomes for the puppet an ensouling thing," commenting that the moment that the hand travels to another puppet "is the closest thing we have in the ordinary human world to the transmigration of the soul from one body to another, or from one creature to another." Gross can also be refreshingly down-to-earth, for example in illuminating an individual moment in Theatre de Complicite's Mnemonic by juxtaposing it to both more populist and more avant-garde forms of puppetry. Perhaps most refreshingly, he allows his theatrical ruminations to be stimulated by nontheatrical instances of puppetry. Kleist's "On the Marionette Theater" and Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater are as at home in these thought-provoking pages as the Mabou Mines Peter and Wendy or Kantor's The Dead Class. "
Kalb's Great Lengths: Seven Works of Marathon Theater is the fruit of a lifetime of intelligent playgoing. His analysis of productions that require us to keep our bums on seats for extraordinarily long periods of time not only deepens our understanding of those intellectually and temporally challenging works, it also asks us to reconsider what it means to pay attention at and to a theatrical event that makes remarkable claims on our time in a communal setting. Whether discussing the RSC's Nicholas Nickleby or Einstein on the Beach, Tony Kushner's Angels in America or Peter Stein's Faust, Kalb insists on the importance of a theater that he terms "necessary" – "theater that is not merely clever, edifying, or entertaining but inspiringly ambitious, that gathers people together in ways they scarcely thought possible, confirming their common humanity, and reminds them of what the art once looked and felt like when it mattered much, much more to the average person than it does today."
2010-11: Jill Dolan, the Annan Professor in English and Professor of Theater at Princeton University
Recognizing the growing importance of the internet as a site for the dissemination of serious dramatic criticism, the George Jean Nathan Award Committee this year honors for the first time a web publication, Jill Dolan's "The Feminist Spectator". The Award Committee commends Dolan for her consistently thoughtful and articulate discussions of the contemporary stage. Whether covering high-profile productions of classical pieces, such as The Merchant of Venice, or revivals of more recent works, such as Angels in America, "The Feminist Spectator" always offers her readers clear and well-reasoned analyses. Dolan intersperses informed personal responses to plays and performances with significant historical, political, and cultural insights that help frame and contextualize her remarks. The blog cogently directs us toward feminist investigations of performance, wherein we must question the theatre's "modes of production" and the "complicated questions of representation" that may be elsewhere ignored. A tireless champion of women artists, Dolan graciously, yet compellingly enjoins us to be mindful spectators as well as lovers of the theatre.
She is the author of The Feminist Spectator as Critic (1989; to be reissued with a new introduction in 2012); Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre (2005); and Theatre & Sexuality (2010), as well as several other books and many articles and essays on feminist and lesbian/gay/queer contemporary American theatre. She holds a PhD in Performance Studies from New York University.
2009-2010: Charles McNulty, Chief Theater Critic for the Los Angeles Times
A former Village Voice theater critic and editor, Mr. McNulty received his doctorate in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism from the Yale School of Drama. He was the director of Brooklyn College's graduate program in dramaturgy and theater criticism from 2001-2005, and before that served for six seasons as a literary manager/ dramaturg at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. Mr. McNulty was a member of The Village Voice Obie Award panel from 1995-2005, the last two years as chairman, and he chaired the Pulitzer drama jury in 2010. He has taught at Yale, the New School, NYU, the CUNY Graduate Center, UCLA, and the California Institute of the Arts; he got his theatrical start as a literary intern at the New York Public Theater in the days of Joseph Rapp.
The Award Committee’s Citation:
"The Nathan Award committee honors Mr. McNulty for his theatre reviews and essays published in the Los Angeles Times. An astute chronicler of individual productions as well as trends in contemporary playwriting, Mr. McNulty has also emerged as an articulate and forceful critic of the state of the professional theatre in the United States. Mr. McNulty helps us to understand what is compelling and original in the craftsmanship of emerging dramatists of note, while his thorough grounding in theatre history and dramatic writing enables him to frame contemporary productions of classic works for his readers, helping us to understand the nuances of directors' interpretations or actors' characterizations.
The Nathan Committee particularly commends Mr. McNulty for his forthright analysis of the process for determining this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which the Pulitzer board chose to award to a work that had not been recommended by the jury. Equally strong was his discussion of daunting leadership issues facing the professional theatre today; McNulty's pointed questioning of the priorities and vision of the not-for-profit theatre reflects the deeply held convictions he brings to his writing, and also reminds us of the critical importance of such discourse for the future of the nation's theatrical artistry."
2008-2009: Marc Robinson, Professor of English and Theater Studies at Yale University, for his book The American Play 1787-2000
Professor Robinson is also a member of the faculty of the Yale School of Drama, where he received his doctorate. He has written widely on American theater and is the author of The Other American Drama, as well as the editor of The Theater of Maria Irene Fornes and Altogether Elsewhere: Writers in Exile.
“The American Play 1787-2000 provides a compelling and timely re-evaluation of American drama as script as well as literary text. Elegantly written, nuanced, insightful, yet accessible to a wide audience, The American Play demonstrates convincingly why works of the American theatre continue to fascinate and engage us, at the same time that they speak to us about our history, our culture, and our lives as Americans. Both a serious scholarly study and a highly readable narrative, Robinson’s book helps us to understand the evolution of our nation’s artistry.” The Nathan Prize committee identified The American Play as an exemplary text that not only reveals the subtle and varied connections within a complex national dramaturgy, but does so seemingly effortlessly. Readers may look forward to discovering the cogency of pieces dating to our nation’s early years, as well as to gaining new understanding of some of the most prominent and lasting works of the twentieth century, such as The Glass Menagerie and Death of a Salesman. Moreover, the impressive multiplicity of Robinson’s perspectives and insights reflects his thorough grounding in the American theatre as dramaturg, critic, teacher, and scholar.
2007-2008: Randy Gener, for his essays in American Theatre
In addition to being the Senior Editor of American Theatre, Randy Gener is a writer, critic, editor, playwright, and visual artist based in New York City. He is the author of the plays Love Seats for Virginia Woolf and What Remains of a Rembrandt Torn into Four Pieces, among other plays, as well as scholarly essays (in the Cambridge Guide to the American Theatre and Theatre and Humanism in Today’s World of Violence), and articles and reviews in The Village Voice, The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Star Ledger, Time Out New York, and other publications. He has worked as an editor of the Theatre Institute of the Czech Republic’s newspaper Prague Quadrennial Today and as a freelance dramaturg for the Joseph Papp Public Theater, Roundabout Theatre Company, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, and Denver Center Theatre Company. His floral installation, In the Garden of One World (a collaboration with the Romanian scenic designer Nic Ularu) debuted in 2008 at La MaMa La Galleria. He has been the recipient of a New York Times critic fellowship at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Critics Institute; grants from the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association, the Ford Foundation, and the Trust for Mutual Understanding; and a Filipinas Magazine Arts and Culture Prize. A member of the theater alliances NoPassport and Theater Without Borders, he was inducted in 2008 to Via Times of Chicago’s Filipino American Hall of Fame.
“The Nathan committee was particularly impressed by Randy Gener’s writing for American Theatre this year. He has used that venue and others to draw our attention to largely ignored voices and visions on the international theatrical scene, to the work of Filipino-American playwright Jessica Hagedorn, to a small but lively Tennessee Williams Festival in Provincetown, and to the future of theatrical criticism itself in essays that wed critical intelligence with a beat reporter’s love of the telling and unruly fact. In one piece, Gener argues that, at its best, criticism is ‘a cultural asset, one of the bases on which democracy and community are built.’ He fulfills that lofty goal by implicitly reminding us of how much that is excellent in theatre here and abroad is ignored by a critical fraternity which, during this age of globalization, seems more parochial than ever.”
2006-2007: H. Scott McMillin, Jr., a Professor of English at Cornell who died unexpectedly March 29, 2007, was posthumously given the Nathan award for his book The Musical as Drama.
The Nathan prize committee agreed that The Musical as Drama is a major scholarly work but also eminently readable. Its great strength is examining particular moments of performance in musicals where, according to McMillin's thesis, the forward action of the drama is arrested and seduced into repetition, the defining characteristic of American musical theater. By looking closely at major musical moments like "You'll Never Walk Alone" in Carousel or "Why Can't the English" in My Fair Lady, McMillin "conjures emotion and makes visible what conjured it," according to Cadden. Marc Robinson of Yale admired the treatment of Oklahama, which "speaks to something about the musical we don't know but is true." He also applauded McMillin's discussion of the role of the orchestra as the "voice of the musical," which "knows things" that characters do not.
"The Musical as Drama caps a career that also produced groundbreaking books on Renaissance theater: The Queen's Men and Their Plays, 1583-1603, Shakespeare in Performance: Henry IV, Part One and The Elizabethan Theatre and the Book of Sir Thomas More. The new study is testimony to McMillin's own love for musicals and makes that love speakable through a rigorous analysis of the particular form characterizing the greatest American musicals. McMillin was a powerful, humane presence in the study and appreciation of theater. He will be sorely missed."
2005-2006: Charles Isherwood, New York Times drama critic
Isherwood has been writing for the Times since 2004. A Stanford graduate, he began his career at L.A. Style but soon went to Variety and Daily Variety, where he was senior editor and Los Angeles theater critic, before moving to New York, where he was Variety's chief theater critic. He was also a contributing editor for the Advocate magazine from 1993-1998 and has written about Broadway for the London Times.
The Nathan committee was particularly impressed with Isherwood's willingness to voice strong opinions and take sometimes unpopular stands during the last theater season. For instance, he wrote of the Sydney Theater Company's production of Hedda Gabler with Cate Blanchette, which had been a popular success (and applauded by the Times' other drama reviewer), that the "audience...didn't seem to notice (or care) that a classic play was being publicly kneecapped." The committee also applauded Isherwood's range of knowledge and willingness to educate theatergoers, as when in a review of a performance of classic commedia dell'arte he noted a range of "comic archetypes whose influence cannot be overstated, stretching as they do from Shakespeare to Homer Simpson." And they admired his sense of New York theatrical trends, as in the summer review where he plaintively raised the "burning question," "Who's afraid of 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'"
"Since his arrival at the New York Times in the fall of 2004, and following his successful tenure at Variety, Charles Isherwood has provided penetrating analyses of the contemporary theatre, with cogent appraisals of all production elements and careful attention to the interplay of acting, directing, design, and dramaturgy. His vivid descriptions transport us into the performance event and invite us to participate in an implicit dialogue about the theater's import and impact for our moment. Isherwood, moreover, displays the courage of his critical convictions, most notably this past season in his against-the-tide review of Hedda Gabler. Deeply informed historically and critically, Isherwood's commentary on Goldoni and Shakespeare, Pinter and Kane, Shaw and O'Neill exemplifies the Nathan Award's call for "the stimulation of intelligent playgoing."
2004-2005: Raymond Knapp, for The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity
Raymond Knapp is Professor of Musicology at UCLA, where he has taught since 1989. He earned a B.A. cum laude in music at Harvard University, an M.A. in composition at Radford University, and a Ph.D. in musicology at Duke University, with a dissertation on Brahms. His principal research interests are in music from the 18th through 20th centuries, and he has published and given talks on Landini, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Brahms, Dvorák, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Bartók, and various topics relating to the American musical and film music. His other books, Brahms and the Challenge of the Symphony and Symphonic Metamorphoses: Subjectivity and Alienation in Mahler’s Re-Cycled Songs, were published in 1997 and 2003, respectively, and a second book on the American musical is due from Princeton University Press in early 2006. At UCLA, he has taught courses on Beethoven, the American musical, nationalism, Mahler, Haydn, Mozart, absolute music, and musical allusion.
“Raymond Knapp’s The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity (Princeton University Press, 2005) directs a new generation of theatre-goers to the most historically successful of American theatrical forms. Even more importantly, it shows them why making the trip is worthwhile. Bringing musicological expertise and technical savvy to bear on the history of the musical play from Sullivan to Sondheim, Knapp makes his narrative vivid and his examples clear. He tells the story of how a nation of immigrants arrived with an abundance of distinctive songs and troubles to share, but he complicates their journey to mutual assimilation by highlighting the omni-directional signposts along the way. Such signposts include the crossing of “high” and “popular” culture in George Gershwin’s detour of the blues through Richard Wagner, for instance, to make an improbable but beguiling foursome out of Tristan und Isolde and Porgy and Bess. But Knapp’s signposts centrally point the way to the collision of what he calls “American Mythologies” in Oklahoma!, Guys and Dolls, and The Music Man with “Counter-Mythologies,” as exemplified by Hair and Assassins. Along the way, the author shows how the American musical proved useful in “managing America’s others,” from the anxious miscegenation of Show Boat to the exoticism of Pacific Overtures, but he also hints in his “Afterword” that it is now leading the way to “Other Directions, Other Identities.” Forward-looking in form of publication as well as content, The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity links up online to audio examples, thereby connecting Tin Pan Alley to the Information Superhighway.”
2003-2004: Trey Graham, for a review of Caryl Churchill's Far Away published in the Washington City Paper
Trey Graham, a onetime student of classical music and aspiring opera singer, began his journalism career as a writer and editor at The Washington Blade and joined the staff of the City Paper in 1995. His five-year tenure at USA Today included a stint as the newspaper's music and theater editor. Graham has served as a regular panelist on Around Town, the venerable arts roundtable program on Washington PBS affiliate WETA-TV, and an occasional contributor to WETA-FM's theater coverage. He also has been a weekend host on WGMS-FM, the capital district's commercial classical music radion station. Graham was a 2002 critic-fellow at the O'Neill Critics Institute and a fellow at the first National Endowment for the Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theatre, convened at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School in February 2005. He also has been a guest lecturer on drama criticism at Georgetown University and the author of the theater section of the Time Out Guide to the nation's capital.
"For Trey Graham, the play's the thing. In reviewing classical and contemporary work produced in the Greater Washington D.C. area, he brings a fresh eye both to things we think we know and to things newly-minted. He writes with sensitivity and flair about the individual masterworks of the British and American canon, but he's especially adept at linking these and other works from the past with the best the present has to offer; he revels in the serendipitous connections season planning throws his way, as Sarah Kane sheds new light on Harold Pinter, Tony Kushner on Bernard Shaw, Martin McDonagh on Tennessee Williams. The Nathan Committee particularly commends Mr. Graham's review of Caryl Churchill's Far Away--a moving display of how the pressures exerted by a new and difficult theatrical work can produce a gem of a critical essay."
2002-2003: Hilton Als, for reviews published in The New Yorker
Mr. Als was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1961. He attended Manhattan’s School for the Performing Arts and Columbia University and currently resides in New York City. He is former staff writer for the Village Voice and editor at large at Vibe magazine; his work has also appeared in The Nation. He has written film scripts for Swoon and Looking for Langston, and edited the catalogue for the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition entitled “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art,” which ran from November, 1994, to March, 1995. His first book, The Women, a meditation on gender and race and their roles in the forging of personal identity, appeared in 1996. He is also the co-writer (with artist Darryl Turner) of Don’t Explain, a screenplay. He was named a staff writer at The New Yorker in November, 1996. Since 1989, he had been a frequent contributor to the magazine’s Talk of the Town section. In 2002 Als became a theatre critic for the magazine. In 1997, in the New York Association of Black Journalists Awards, Mr. Als won first place in two categories, Magazine Critique/Review and Magazine Arts and Entertainment. He was awarded a Guggenheim in 2000 for Creative Writing.
"Hilton Als has demonstrated his passion for great acting, his admiration for theatrical style, and his sense of the importance of historical and cultural context in a series of witty, intelligent, and sometimes deliciously argumentative reviews for The New Yorker. His criticism offers delight and instruction for those who have seen the shows under review and for those who have not. Whether he’s discussing the latest directorial interpretation of Gypsy, the formidable acting talent on display in Vincent in Brixton, or the Harlem Renaissance background of Langston Hughes’s Little Ham, Als offers his audience a lively mix of information and opinion in a literate style that cannot help but contribute to intelligent playgoing."
2001-2002: Daniel Mendelsohn, for articles published in the New York Review of Books
Daniel Mendelsohn was born on Long Island in 1960 and received his B.A. in Classics from the University of Virginia and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Classics from Princeton University, where he was a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities. After completing his Ph.D. in 1994, he began a career in journalism in New York City, and since then his articles, essays, reviews, and translations have appeared in numerous national publications, including the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Nation, Esquire, the Hudson Review, and the Paris Review. From 2000 until 2002, he was the weekly book critic for New York magazine, for which he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Excellence in Criticism in 2001. While serving as a Lecturer in Classics at Princeton University, he has been a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books, contributing reviews of books, film, and the theatre. His book reviews have appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review, and he has written frequently about travel for Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine. His 1999 memoir of sexual identity and family history, The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity (Knopf, 1999; Vintage, 2000) was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year; and his scholarly study of Greek tragedy, Gender and the City in Euripides’ Political Plays, appeared in 2002 from Oxford University Press.
“In three articles for the New York Review of Books, Daniel Mendelsohn writes with elegance, erudition, and humor about plays ancient and modern on the contemporary stage. Clearly a scholar, he brings to his analysis of Greek tragedy and the plays of Noel Coward an admirable knowledge of the times and places which produced them. But his scholarship is always in the service of a very contemporary and well-articulated sense of why and how these plays might speak to us in the present. Mendelsohn’s deep engagement with these dramatic texts, their histories, and the ways in which they continue to be reimagined serves to remind us how theatre has mattered and of why it matters still.”
2000-2001: Laurence Senelick, for The Changing Room
Professor Senelick holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University, where he serves as Honorary Curator of Russian Theatre. He has taught at Emerson College and at Tufts University as Fletcher Professor of Drama and Oratory and Director of Graduate Studies in Drama. A former fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, the Salzburg Seminars, and the International Research & Exchanges Board, he has received grants from the NEH and ACLS. He has published more than a dozen books, including The Chekhov Theater: A Century of Plays in Performance, which won the Bernard Hewitt Award of the American Society for Theatre Research (1997), and The Age and Stage of George L. Fox, which won the George Freedley Award of the Theatre Library Association (1988). He is the holder of the St. George Medal of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation for service to Russian art and scholarship. His translations have been widely published and performed, and he has directed and acted with such organizations as the Phoenix Theatre, the Loeb Drama Center, the Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Baroque, and The Proposition. In 2002, he was awarded the Distinguished Scholarship Award for the ASTR.
“Laurence Senelick's The Changing Room: Sex, Drag, and Theatre, is an encyclopedic study of the history of crossdressing, onstage and off. This is an extraordinarily scholarly book, at once cognizant of contemporary performance theory and informed by forgotten historical moments, styles, and cultures. But it is also a fan's note on the contemporary alternative theatre and the difference ‘difference’ can make in the life of one funny, learned, and appreciative audience member–Senelick himself.
“The Changing Room provides us with a guide to what might be dismissed as a phenomenon marginal to mainstream theatre history and contemporary theatrical practice; but the way Senelick tells the story, the theatre has always been at heart a joyously queer institution, ‘most itself when challenging the norms of its ambient culture.’ Whether he’s discussing hijra devotees of the mother goddess Bahuchara Mata or Dame Edna Everage, Beijing Opera or Hwang's M. Butterfly, Charley’s Aunt or Charles Ludlam, Senelick enlightens, informs, and entertains his readers with a vision of performance that moves easily from the past to the present, from the street to the West End, from the drag club to Broadway. Senelick’s wide-ranging knowledge combines with lively and surprising first-hand reports of his own theatergoing to make The Changing Room a compelling look at both the history of theatre and the very specific theatres he has graced with his critical attention.”
1999-2000: Albert Williams, for his reviews for the Chicago Reader
Mr. Williams has written for the Chicago Reader since 1985, serving as its theatre critic and also as an Artist-in-Residence at the Theater Department of Columbia College. He has contributed to the New York Times Book Review, American Theatre magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Advocate magazine, the Boston Herald, and the New Art Examiner. He has served as managing editor of two Chicago newspapers, Gay Life and Windy City Times. His arts criticism in Windy City Times won the 1991 Peter Lisagor Award from the Headline Club (the Chicago Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists).
“Albert Williams writes the kind of criticism for which the George Jean Nathan Award was designed-–incisive, thorough, confident in the intelligence of its readers, and convinced that theatre makes a difference to the city in which it occurs. His Chicago Reader reviews in 1999-2000 covered a wide range of plays, from early and late O’Neill and the 60’s rock musical Hair to a recent farce about Sigmund Freud and the latest installment of the Second City revue, yet Albert Williams writes as though all of these shows should contribute equally to the main enterprise, the growth and vibrance of the Chicago theatre. His method is to put the play first and to give it a context, in the belief that his readers care about plays and the events which surround them. If the play matters–and Williams makes certain that it does–readers will want to know the performance at hand, which Williams then searches for signs of the seriousness and wholeheartedness Chicago audiences have come to expect. When cheapness or silliness are found instead, they are made to disappear, with a sense of disappointment over a good opportunity missed. This is generous and fair-minded reviewing, achieving a consistently high quality. It was George Jean Nathan’s intention to honor criticism which develops a playgoing public in America. The reviews Albert Williams is writing for the Chicago Reader are outstanding realizations of this aim, and it is with great pleasure that the Committee awards him the Nathan Award for 1999-2000.”
1998-1999: Michael Goldman, for Ibsen: The Dramaturgy of Fear. He is the third person to have won the Nathan Award twice; he also won in 1975-76.
Mr. Goldman is Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. He holds undergraduate degrees from Columbia and Cambridge University, and a doctorate from Princeton, where he became professor of English in 1975.
In addition to the two books that won Nathan Awards, Michael Goldman has published several works of dramatic criticism, including Shakespeare and the Energies of Drama, which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1973, Acting and Action in Shakespearean Tragedy, and On Drama: Boundaries of Genre, Borders of Self. He is also the author of two books of poetry, First Poems and At the Edge. He has written two plays, “Walking Toward the River in the Sun,” and “Elegaterooneyrismusissimus,” both performed Off-Broadway, as well as poetry contributions to The New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Kenyon Review, TLS, and other publications.
“In his eloquently written Ibsen: The Dramaturgy of Fear, Michael Goldman leads the reader to the edge of the abyss of the later plays, from A Doll’s House to When We Dead Awaken. Looking steadily into the depths of cruelty plumbed by many of Ibsen’s characters and the pain they inflict on themselves and others, Goldman reanimates on every page the harrowing but fascinating ‘contacts’ (as in ‘contact sports’) that the playwright so relentlessly provokes. Above all, this brief but densely packed book celebrates the life of Ibsen’s dramas onstage, recapturing in its rigorous selection of crucial details (in that and in other matters so like the plays themselves) the truth that Ibsen is a poet of the theatre, by the theatre, and for the theatre.”
1997-98: Alisa Solomon, for Re-Dressing the Canon: Essays on Theatre and Gender (Routledge)
Ms. Solomon’s career includes serving as a staff writer for the Village Voice as well as Professor of English and Journalism at Baruch College, City University of New York, and as Professor of English and Theatre at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she is also Executive Director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. She holds a doctorate from the Yale School of Drama. In addition to Re-Dressing the Canon, her books include The Queerest Art: Essays on Lesbian and Gay Theater (editor, with Framji Minwalla). Her numerous articles on theatre, feminism, immigration, gay and lesbian issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and women’s sports have appeared in the Voice and also in such publications as the New York Times, Out, Forward, and Mirabella. Her journalism has won awards from the Detention Watch Network (a national coalition of immigrant rights groups), the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Women’s Sports Foundation, and Planned Parenthood.
“Re-Dressing the Canon is a bold and lucid study of the performance of gender in a wide range of plays, from Aristophanes to the present. It displays a thorough understanding of how meaning is communicated through theatrical performance, a solid grounding in theatrical history and dramatic criticism, and a sophisticated engagement with theoretical issues in a lively and accessible style. It explores how plays that place issues of representation at the forefront—often by putting a character in cross-dressed disguise—remind us of the disarming possibility that our own guarded identities, even those that feel as intimate as skin, must be aggressively and institutionally enforced if they are to be sustained.’ It thus brings its scholarly and theoretical energies elegantly to bear on central aspects of the theatrical experience.”
1996-97: Ben Brantley, Elinor Fuchs, and Todd London
Ben Brantley, Elinor Fuchs, and Todd London shared the George Jean Nathan Award for 1996-97. Brantley was honored for his reviews in the New York Times, Fuchs for her book The Death of Character, and London for contributions to American Theatre.
Ben Brantley began his journalism career as a fashion reporter for Women’s Wear Daily. He became a theatre reviewer for the New York Times in 1993 and was subsequently named chief theatre critic for the Times. He is the editor of The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century.
Elinor Fuchs was appointed Professor of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at Yale School of Drama in 1998. She previously taught at Columbia, Harvard, and Emory. Her other books include Land/Scape/Theater (editor, with Una Chaudhuri), Plays of the Holocaust (editor), and Year One of the Empire (with Joyce Antler), which won the Drama-Logue Best Play Award for its 1980 Los Angeles production. She is a contributing editor to Theater magazine, and was guest editor of its special Millennium Issue, “The Apocalyptic Century.” Her essays appear in numerous scholarly anthologies and journals, and her criticism has appeared in the New York Times, the Village Voice, and American Theatre. She has been the recipient of a Bunting Fellowship and two Rockefeller Fellowships.
Todd London became Artistic Director of New Dramatists, the nation’s leading center for the support and development of playwrights, in 1997. He is the former managing editor of American Theatre magazine and author of The Artistic Home. His essays and articles blending arts journalism and advocacy have appeared regularly in publications across the country, and many have been reprinted nationally and in Canada. In 1995, he was guest literary director of the American Repertory Theatre and visiting lecturer of dramatic arts at Harvard. For two years prior to that he served as senior writer on “Theatre in America,” a five-part documentary series in development for Great Performances, WNET/Thirteen in New York. A former chair of the New York State Council on the Arts theatre panel and NEA Theatre Panelist, London was an assistant professor of drama at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts from 1990-94. He edited Contemporary American Monologues for Women and Contemporary American Monologues for Men and New Dramatists 2000. He holds an M.F.A. in Directing from Boston University and a Ph.D. in Literary Studies from the American University. His first novel, The World’s Room, won the Vermont Book Professionals Milestone Award.
“As chief theatre critic of the New York Times, Ben Brantley has brought to the daily review a generosity of spirit to match his sharpness of insight. Equally fluent in straight drama, musicals, and the avant-garde, Brantley is descriptively precise, critically even-handed, and imbued with a sense of the whole: both the individual work and the theatre at large.”
“Elinor Fuchs’s The Death of Character, published by Indiana University Press, stands out for its range and boldness in reappraising twentieth-century drama from the perspective of the avant-garde theatre. Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, and Brecht are thus re-evaluated through the achievements of Beckett, Robert Wilson, the Wooster Group, Richard Foreman, and performance artists such as Annie Sprinkle and Laurie Anderson. The result is provocative, controversial, and solidly based on recent theatre practices.”
“A shrewd analyst of the theatrical scene, Todd London’s contributions to American Theatre have impressed the Nathan Committee over the years. In ‘Mamet vs. Mamet’ (American Theatre, July/August 1996), he offers a provocative and telling analysis of the ways in which the playwright’s three professional identities–as dramatist, director, and theorist–often work at cross purposes.”
1995-96: Michael Feingold, for reviews published in the Village Voice
Mr. Feingold began writing for the Village Voice in 1971 and became its chief theatre critic in 1984. A graduate of Columbia University and the Yale School of Drama, he has conducted a simultaneous second career in the theatre itself, working variously as playwright, translator, director, dramaturg, literary manager, and occasionally teaching as well. He was the first Literary Manager of the newly formed Yale Repertory Theatre, serving from 1971-76; he then occupied similar posts at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. He has directed productions at many other theatres, including Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and New York’s American Place Theatre, Circle Rep, WPA Theatre, and Manhattan Theatre Club. His translations have been widely produced by theatres across the English-speaking world. He is particularly known for his versions of the music-theatre works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, two of which (Happy End and The Threepenny Opera) appeared on Broadway, while a third, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, has been sung in numerous major opera houses, most recently Chicago’s Lyric Opera. He has translated a series of classic comedies for Off-Broadway’s Pearl Theatre, the first of which, Carlo Goldoni’s The Venetian Twins, was published by Samuel French. The editor of numerous anthologies, most recently Grove New American Theater, Mr. Feingold has for many years been a master teacher at the O’Neill Center’s National Critics Institute. He has also taught dramatic literature and dramaturgy at New York University and at Columbia University. A Guggenheim Fellow and a winner of the American Book Awards’ Walter Lowenfels Prize, he has also been a resident artist at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference and the Sundance Theater Lab. He is a Usual Suspect at New York Theatre Workshop, and was a 2001-02 Senior Fellow of the National Arts Journalism Program.
“The award committee recognizes not only Mr. Feingold’s passionate and intelligent coverage of the 1995-96 theatre season in New York City but also the excellence he has sustained throughout his career as a theatre critic. The Committee particularly commends him as a champion of the American drama, in all of its musical and non-musical variations. Mr. Feingold’s ability to articulate our theatrical past, respond to our theatrical present, and dream our theatrical future makes him one of the most valuable players on the contemporary American theatrical scene.”
1994-95: Robert Hurwitt, for reviews written for the San Francisco Examiner
Mr. Hurwitt received an undergraduate degree from NYU and a master’s degree from Berkeley. A former actor, he was the theatre critic and arts editor for the weekly East Bay Express (Berkeley, CA) from 1979-92. During this period, he published widely on theatre, writing a monthly column for California Magazine and freelance articles for, among others, the Los Angeles Times, Focus Magazine, California Living, the California Theatre Annual, and the San Francisco Examiner. He became lead theatre critic for the Examiner in 1992 and moved to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000 when the Hearst Corporation purchased the paper and merged the two staffs. He also edited the paperback new plays anthologies West Coast Plays, volumes 15-22. He has been the recipient of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship.
“Robert Hurwitt, theatre critic for the San Francisco Examiner, is the winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for 1994-95. The award committee was especially impressed by Mr. Hurwitt’s understanding of dramatic structure, and of the kinds of judgment required to enable a particular production to realize that structure theatrically. He is always sensitive to the contributions of both actors and designers, and his prose is unfailingly lucid and entertaining. The Committee found particularly oustanding his reviews of the New York productions of Stoppard’s Arcadia and Turgenev’s A Month in the Country and of Eurpides' Hecuba as produced in San Francisco.”
1993-94: Marvin Carlson and John Lahr
Marvin Carlson received the George Jean Nathan Award for his periodical criticism, and especially for an essay published in Foreign Shakespeare: Contemporary Performance. Sharing the prize with him was John Lahr, for reviews published in The New Yorker. Mr. Lahr became the second person to receive the award for a second time; he first won it in 1968-69.
Mr. Carlson received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas and his doctorate from Cornell University. He has taught at Cornell and Indiana, and in 1979 became the Sidney E. Cohn Distinguished Professor of Theatre and Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the ATHE Career Achievement Award, and the Calloway Prize. He has published many books on theatre and performance, history, and theory, including Theories of the Theatre, Places of Performance, Performance: A Critical Introduction, and The Haunted Stage. His work has been published in fifteen languages.
Mr. Lahr was an undergraduate at Yale, where he was one of the editors of the Yale Daily News. He studied at Worcester College, Oxford, and returned to New York to work on Notes on a Cowardly Lion, the biography of his father, the actor Bert Lahr. He has also published biographies of Joe Orton, Frank Sinatra, and Barry Humphries (“Dame Edna Everage”), and served as general theatre editor of Grove Press and literary consultant to Lincoln Center’s Repertory Theater. In 1967, he joined the Evergreen Review as contributing editor. His honors include a Wall Street Journal Fellowship, the Roger Machell Prize for theatre writing, and the Yale Writing Prize. He is a three-time winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for writing about music. He became senior theatre critic and profile writer for The New Yorker in 1992. He is also the author of numerous stage adaptations and plays; his short film, Sticky My Fingers, Fleet My Feet, was nominated for an Academy Award.
“Marvin Carlson impressed the Committee by first-rate reviews which extended across an extraordinary range of Western theatre. He reviewed productions of Edward Bond and Brecht in Paris, The Grapes of Wrath in Finland, Shakespeare in Vienna, and Mozart in Cooperstown, New York. In search of good experimental theatre in New York City, he covered a Hannis Houvardas revision of Euripides’s Iphigenia in Tauris at La Mama, and Reza Abdoh’s Law of Remains at a semi-derelict hotel in mid-town Manhattan. Carlson values theatre which reaches across national boundaries to have an impact in unexpected places, theatre which challenges its audiences with feminist and post-modern thinking, yet theatre which remains in touch with the great plays of the past. Always his writing is informed with a sense of context and history, and his retrospective on the Shakespearean productions of Daniel Mesguich in France, published in Foreign Shakespeare: Contemporary Performance, was felt by the Committee to be the most illuminating single piece of theatre criticism this year.”
“John Lahr, theatre critic for The New Yorker, who shares the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for 1993-94, won it also in 1968-69. Since the selection committee tends to favor critics who have not won previously, and since the entries in the periodical category were especially strong this year, it is a signal tribute to the quality of John Lahr’s work that it scores again. His style is lucid, graceful, and energetic; his voice is his own. Whether writing from New York or from London, Lahr captures the essence of a performance in a single paragraph, from which–often supported by research and interview–he elaborates an account that makes us feel, if we did not see the play in the theatre, that we watch it in his prose, or, if we saw it then, we grasp it more intelligently now.”
1992-93: David Cole, for Acting as Reading: The Place of the Reading Process in the Actor’s Work
Mr. Cole, who holds a doctorate from Harvard University, is also the author of The Theatrical Event and of several plays, including The Moments of the Wandering Jew, which was performed in 1979 at the Theatre of the Open Eye in New York, and published, in part, in the Winter 2000 issue of Theater magazine. Other plays of his have received staged readings at the Circle-in-the-Square, the American Place Theatre, the Theatre Company of Boston, the McCarter Theatre, and Emory University. His articles on dramatic theory have appeared in The Drama Review and Tikkun magazine. He has taught literature and drama at Harvard, NYU, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Yale College, where he ran the undergraduate Theatre Studies program. He has lectured on Judaism and Drama at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in New York.
“David Cole’s new book, Acting as Reading, offers an original and provocative account of the place of reading in the work of the actor. The book is far more than a description of the perusal of playscripts or of research on a role. Drawing on his own impressive readings in literature, cultural history, psychoanalysis, linguistics, and other disciplines, as well as drama itself, Cole articulates clearly and persuasively his claim that ‘reading,’ in its many and sometimes buried senses, both informs and charges every action of every actor. In a series of nuanced analyses, Cole also demonstrates the importance of scenes of reading in a striking variety of plays. An interdisciplinary work that resists conventional categories, Acting as Reading will intrigue and challenge readers and writers of plays, scholars, and audiences, as well as performers in the theatre.”
1991-92: Kevin Kelly, for his reviews for the Boston Globe
Mr. Kelly received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston University and joined the Boston Globe in 1958. He became chief drama critic for the Globe in 1962 and film critic in 1969. He died in 1994. He is the author of One Singular Sensation: The Michael Bennett Story, and his articles appeared in numerous magazines, including Vogue and New York. He served on the nominating committees for both the Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize in drama.
“For thirty years, Mr. Kelly ably served a diverse metropolitan readership and a burgeoning theatrical community, balancing uncompromisingly high standards with encouragement for experimentation and artistic risk-taking. His enthusiastic reviews of good classical revivals, like that of Moliere’s Tartuffe, as well as of interesting new work, like the musical Falsettos, are written with an engaging liveliness that should gratify performers and stimulate audiences; his less enthusiastic reviews are well-reasoned and fair-minded. Mr. Kelly writes with a veteran’s wisdom and an undiminished liveliness, still freshly engaging the theatre’s own lively diversity.”
1990-91: Jonathan Kalb, for Beckett in Performance and his articles and reviews in the Village Voice
A graduate of Wesleyan University, Mr. Kalb received his master’s degree and doctorate from the Yale School of Drama. He was Assistant Professor of Performance Studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts when he received the Nathan Award. He became Professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York and the CUNY Graduate Center in 1992, and Chair of the Theatre Department at Hunter College in 2001. Kalb was a regular theatre critic for the Village Voice from 1987-97 and the chief theatre critic for the New York Press from 1997-2001. He has published dozens of essays, articles, interviews, and other writings in the New York Times and such journals as Modern Drama, Theatre Journal, Theater, Performing Arts Journal, Theater Heute, The Threepenny Review, Salmagundi, The Michigan Quarterly Review, New German Critique, TheatreForum, American Theatre, as well as in numerous books. Kalb has published two volumes of criticism, Free Admissions: Collected Theater Writings and Play By Play: Theater Essays and Reviews, 1993-2002. In the late 1980s, Kalb was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to Germany and lived in West Berlin for two years, where he began to write about German theatre. His book The Theater of Heiner Müller, the first general study in English about the most important German playwright since Brecht, was reissued as a revised and enlarged paperback in 2001.
“With a commendably wide theatrical vision, Jonathan Kalb brings his wit, intelligence, and critical discipline to bear equally on revivals of classics as on the work of current innovators. But it is especially in writing about the complex gestural, visual, and sculptural language of the post-modern stage that Mr. Kalb distinguishes himself. His criticism deals not only with finished products. Energetically and inventively he chronicles the process of experimental drama, interviewing its practitioners, analysing rehearsal as well as performance, to give his readers unusually privileged glimpses into the creation of dramatic art. In his book Beckett in Performance, Mr. Kalb demonstrated a tireless devotion to uncovering the intentions of the theatrical auteur. In his latest work he tracks the elusive Heiner Müller across cities and continents to produce a map of the complicated personal and political world of the current German theatre; he interviews the performers in Richard Foreman’s production of Woyzeck, allowing them to express their perplexities as well as their discoveries; he listens for the tones of meaning in Joseph Chaikin’s Beckettian aphasia. Mr. Kalb has a gift for recognizing significant meetings of texts and artists. His accounts of these meetings show us how theatre happens and, in the process, help it to happen anew.”
1989-90: Steven Mikulan, for his reviews for the L.A. Weekly
Mr. Mikulan began writing drama criticism for the L.A. Weekly in 1983 and was made senior editor for theatre at the paper in 1986. Born in England to American parents, he has an undergraduate degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.F.A. in Playwriting from the University of California at Los Angeles.
“The George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism is presented to Steven Mikulan for his dramatic reviews and features in the L.A. Weekly. Mr. Mikulan writes with a keen awareness of his social and cultural environment, speaking to and for the increasingly diverse theatre community of the greater Los Angeles area. Always conscious of Los Angeles as a city whose film and television industries dictate the ways in which many Americans perceive themselves, Mr. Mikulan’s drama reviews explore theatrical texts and productions in terms of what they tell us about ourselves as Americans, especially Americans under the spell of Hollywood images. Combined with his forceful polemics and stimulating critical style, Mr. Mikulan’s penetrating insights into the theatre scene of this media-fed, multi-cultural community make for provocative and informative reviewing.”
1988-89: Eileen Blumenthal, for articles on Cambodian Dance, published in the Village Voice, the New York Times, Natural History, and the Wall Street Journal
Ms. Blumenthal earned a B.A. and an M.A. in English and American Literature from Brown University, both in 1968, and a Ph.D. from Yale in 1977. She has served as a consultant for film and public television performing arts projects, university theatre/dance programs, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and private foundations, and she has lectured and served on panels for universities and public arts programs. In 1977, she began teaching at Rutgers University, where she subsequently became Professor of Theatre Arts in the University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. Her awards include Woodrow Wilson, Kent (Danforth), and Guggenheim Fellowships; an Asian Cultural Council Grant; a Social Science Research Council Grant; a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for University Teachers; a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Residency; a Camargo Foundation residency in Cassis; and the USITT (U.S. Association of Theater Designers and Technicians) Golden Penä Award. She is the author of Joseph Chaikin: Exploring the Boundaries of Theatre, Julie Taymor: Playing with Fire, and The Story of Puppets. She has been a regular contributor to the Village Voice and Soho Weekly News, and her articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice, American Theatre, Asian Theatre Journal, Theater, Natural History, and Cultural Survival. She has published on a broad spectrum of issues involving the performing arts, including experimental and puppet theatre as well as performance in Southeast Asia.
1987-88: Scott Rosenberg, for reviews written for the San Francisco Examiner
Mr. Rosenberg received his B.A. from Harvard and studied for a year at Trinity College, Cambridge University. He began his professional career writing theatre, film, and book reviews for the Boston Phoenix before joining the staff of the San Francisco Examiner in 1986. Since winning the Award, Mr. Rosenberg became the lead movie critic for the Examiner. In 1995, he left the Examiner to help found Salon.com, serving as managing editor and senior vice president for editorial operations.
The Award Committee praised all facets of Rosenberg’s work: “his discerning analyses of dramatic structure, his unusually sensitive appreciation of actors, his ability to draw on a vast knowledge of dramatic history with grace and tact.” Among the many reviews illustrative of the best of his writings, they cited his September 13, 1987 review of the nine-hour epic The Mahabharata and his penetrating double review of July 3, 1988 of M. Butterfly, and Speed the Plow. “Not the least of Mr. Rosenberg’s distinguished qualities is that he writes in a clear, witty, elegant style,” they added.
1986-87: Robert Brustein, for the book Who Needs Theatre: Dramatic Opinions. In doing so, he became the first person to win the Award for a second time; he also won in 1961-62.
Mr. Brustein founded the Yale Repertory Theater in 1966 and directed it and the Yale Drama School from 1966-79. In 1979, he joined the New Republic as theatre critic and founded and also became the Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre, a post he held until 2002. He is founder of the A.R.T. Institute, for which he wrote numerous adaptations. He has supervised well over two hundred productions, acting in eight and directing twelve. His Six Characters in Search of an Author won the Boston Theatre Award for Best Production of 1996. He is a playwright and the author of twelve books on theatre and society, including Cultural Calisthenics, Reimagining American Theatre, The Theatre of Revolt, Dumbocracy in America, Making Scenes (a memoir of his years as Dean of the Yale Drama School), and The Siege of the Arts: Collected Writings 1994-2001.
His many awards include the George Polk Award in journalism, the Elliot Norton Award for professional excellence in Boston theatre, the New England Theatre Conference’s 1985 Annual Award “for outstanding creative achievement in the American theatre,” the 1995 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts, the Pirandello Medal, a medal from the Egyptian Government for his contribution to world theatre, the Commonwealth Award, and a Career Achievement Award in Professional Theatre from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.
“The George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism is presented to Robert Brustein for his collection of dramatic reviews and opinions, Who Needs Theatre. The award committee is pleased to acknowledge the ever-maturing quality of Mr. Brustein’s critical writing on this, the twenty-fifth anniversary of his original reception of the Nathan Award. Comprised of articles originally published in the New Republic and other periodicals over the last five years, Who Needs Theatre continues to demonstrate the excellence of critical thought and style for which Mr. Brustein first won the Nathan Award in 1962. Mr. Brustein now writes with an even more profound understanding of the theatre, with a self-imposed moral obligation to speak out honestly in the face of controversy, and with a voice of authority which challenges our theatres to strive for excellence. His reviews consistently relate the issues of individual productions to the wider-reaching topics of the theatre community and of our society at large. He is, after twenty-five years, still the most powerful and perceptive of our weekly theatre reviewers.”
1985-86: Gordon Rogoff, for articles published in the Village Voice
A co-founder and editor of Encore Magazine (London) in the 1950s and Administrative Director of The Actors Studio, New York (1959-62), Gordon Rogoff was a dramaturg with The Open Theatre during the 1960s. He is Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and became Professor of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at the Yale School of Drama in 1987. He has been Associate Dean of the Yale School of Drama (1966-69), Chair of two departments of Drama (SUNY at Buffalo and Brooklyn College of CUNY), and was Adjunct Professor of Humanities at The Cooper Union. From 1995-99, he was Co-Director of Exiles, a school for theatre training in Ireland. He has directed plays Off-Broadway, Chicago, Williamstown, and Stockbridge. He directed his own adaptation of six stories from Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics (in Buffalo and Off-Broadway). In 1976, he won an Obie Award for his direction of Morton Lichter’s Old Timers’ Sexual Symphony (and other notes). His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has contributed numerous essays and reviews to such periodicals as American Theatre, Theater, the Village Voice, Parnassus, the New Republic, the Nation, and Plays and Players. He is the author of Theatre is Not Safe–Theatre Criticism 1962-1986.
The Award Committee noted “the rigorous critical intelligence of his writing, alive with its own theatrical energy . . . and charged with the force of conviction,” and found particularly compelling his article, “Theatre Criticism: The Elusive Object, the Fading Craft.”
1984-85: Jan Kott, for The Theater of Essence
Mr. Kott was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1914. From 1938-39, he studied at the Sorbonne and became part of the Surrealist group. During the war years, he returned to Poland where he became active in the Polish People’s Army. He became Professor of Romance Literature at the University of Wroclaw in 1949 and Professor of Polish Literature at the University of Warsaw in 1952. In 1964, he co-signed the “Letter of the Thirty-Four” protesting Polish censorship, and in 1969, was officially dismissed from the University of Warsaw. He then became Professor of Comparative Drama (and subsequently of English and Comparative Literature) at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. He served as visiting professor at universities in the United States and Europe, including Yale University, the University of California, and the Instituto Universitario Orientale, Naples. Among the books he has written are Shakespeare Our Contemporary, The Bottom Translation, and Eating of the Gods. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Polish State Prize for literature and literary research, and the Herder Award, Vienna. His essays on theatre, literature, politics, and art have appeared in numerous journals, and his books have been translated into over twenty languages.
“The 1984-85 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism goes to Jan Kott for his book of critical essays, The Theater of Essence. This collection is the culmination of a long string of remarkable contributions to theatrical theory and criticism which started with the publication of Shakespeare Our Contemporary over twenty years ago. It represents the unique presence of Jan Kott, a distinctive voice in the theatre, unparalleled in bringing a vast range of personal, cultural, and literary experience to bear in critical writing. Kott’s essays are not merely criticisms, but parables which create universal themes from specific theatrical experiences. Kott has in the past been recognized by such figures as Peter Brook as the inspiration for approaches to theatrical production. The essays in this book continue to offer dramaturgically fertile ground for those seeking new images and insights into classical material. His essays grasp the singular or several essences of each work he approaches and translate those essences into powerful images and ideas for the theatre scholar, the director, and even the casual playgoer.”
1983-84: Bonnie Marranca, for Theatrewritings
Bonnie Marranca received a B.A. in English from Montclair State College, studied at the University of Copenhagen, received a Master’s Degree in Theatre at Hunter College in 1976, and pursued doctoral studies in theatre at the CUNY Graduate Center. She has taught at Princeton, Duke, the universities of California, Iowa, and Texas, and in Germany and Denmark. Ms. Marranca has written or edited twelve books on contemporary theatre, including Ecologies of Theatre, The Hudson Valley Reader, and American Garden Writing. Her edited volumes include Conversations on Art and Performance, Plays for the End of the Century, American Dreams, and The Theatre of Images. Her writings on performance have been published widely in the U.S. and Europe, and she is a frequent lecturer abroad. In 1976, Ms. Marranca became founding co-editor (with Gautam Dasgupta) of Performing Arts Journal/PAJ Publications, which received an Obie Award in 1983 for “outstanding achievement in the Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theatre.” She taught as a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the Free University, Berlin, in 1998-99, and received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985. She received the Anschutz Distinguished Fellowship in American Studies, Princeton, in 2001, and was a Fellow at the Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture, Rutgers University, in 2001-02.
“The George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for 1983-84 has been won by Bonnie Marranca for her most recent book, Theatrewritings. During the last decade, Ms. Marranca’s essays on the new theatre of writers like Lee Breuer, Sam Shepard, Richard Foreman, and Maria Irene Fornes have come to represent one of our most important commentaries on the esthetic problems of that work and the wider movement known as pe-formance theatre. The freshness of her encounters with this work, the rigor with which she has sought to characterize its variety, and her commitment to clarity of critical formulation and exposition have imparted to her criticism a high seriousness of rare authority. Among the essays from 1983-84 which the judging committee felt especially reflected these qualities was her ‘The Real Life of Maria Irene Fornes.’ But the Committee felt that the publication of recent essays with such earlier pieces as ‘Alphabetical Shepard: The Play of Words’ brought to the collection a larger coherence than could be found in individual studies, and the Committee saw in this a substantial contribution to theatre esthetics.”
1982-83: Herbert Blau, for Take up the Bodies and Blooded Thought
Mr. Blau studied at New York and Stanford Universities, taking graduate degrees in theatre and English literature. He served as director and producer at the San Francisco Actors’ Workshop, which he founded with Jules Irving. He subsequently came to New York to head jointly with Jules Irving the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center. He was Founding Provost of the California Institute of the Arts and Dean of the School of Theater, and director of the experimental theatre group KRAKEN. He has taught at San Francisco State College, City College of the City University of New York, Oberlin College, the University of Maryland, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, and the University of Washington, where he was appointed Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor of the Humanities in 1999. He has directed, taught, and lectured at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, the Rocky Mountain Writers Conference, and the National Theater Center at the University of Wisconsin and served on the boards of various journals and theatres.
His awards include a Ford Foundation Fellowship; two Guggenheim Fellowships; the President’s Distinguished Service Award, California State University System; five NEH grants to direct seminars for university teachers; an NEH Fellowship; a Camargo Foundation Fellowship; and the Kenyon Review Prize for Literary Excellence. In 1973, he won a Design in Steel Award from the American Iron and Steel Institute for designing the Modular Theater at the California Institute of the Arts. He has published widely on drama, performance, and the other arts. In addition to the books for which he won the Nathan Award, he is the author of The Impossible Theater: A Manifesto, The Eye of Prey: Subversions of the Postmodern, The Audience, To All Appearances: Ideology & Performance, Nothing in Itself: Complexions of Fashion, Sails of the Herring Fleet: Essays on Beckett, and The Dubious Spectacle: Extremities of Theater, 1976-2000. His program notes for the productions at the Actor’s Workshop of San Francisco and at Lincoln Center are in the archives of the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, along with an oral history on his theatre work.
“In the past year Mr. Blau has published two books, Take Up The Bodies, a critical itinerary of his most recent work and thought, and Blooded Thought, a collection of essays on a variety of theatrical subjects. Both works reflect the emphasis of much recent theory on the imagery of actors playing at playing the play and the movement toward a theatre of heightened self-consciousness. The special strengths of Mr. Blau’s account are his intimate familiarity with the movement and his unremitting insistence on the highest seriousness for theatre. The selection committee wishes to single out for particular praise the chapters from Take Up The Bodies entitled ‘Conspiracy Theory’ and ‘The Future of an Illusion’ and the essay entitled ‘Look What Thy Memory Cannot Contain’ from Blooded Thought. These writings, no less than Mr. Blau’s other work, the Committee believes, will become important parts of the record of theatrical theory and experimentation in recent years.”
1981-82: Julius Novick, for reviews published in the Village Voice
Julius Novick received his B.A. from Harvard and his D.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama. He has been a Fulbright Scholar, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, a Ford Foundation grantee, and a Guggenheim Fellow. He has taught in various capacities at New York University, the Juilliard School, Columbia University, and the O’Neill Critics Institute, a program of the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theater Center. He is Emeritus Professor of Drama Studies at Purchase College of the State University of New York, where he taught for nearly thirty years and won the Kempner Distinguished Professor Award. He was a theatre critic at the Village Voice for thirty years, beginning in 1958. For a year he was also the theatre critic for Newsfront on Channel 13; for nine years he was the theatre critic of The Humanist; and for two glamorous weeks he was the theatre critic for Vogue. After leaving the Voice, he served as theatre critic of the New York Observer. He has also written for American Theatre, Harper’s Magazine, the Threepenny Review, the Nation, the Los Angeles Times, New York, Newsday, the New York Times, and many other publications. He is the author of Beyond Broadway: The Quest for Permanent Theaters, a pioneering study of the resident theatre movement. He has served twice on the Pulitzer Prize Drama Jury, once as chairman.
“The Award Committee was impressed by the consistently high quality of Julius Novick’s frequent reviews in the Village Voice. One series of articles in particular, reporting on what Mr. Novick found in the theatres of London, Paris, and Niagara-on-the-Lake as well as New York, reveals the intelligence and intensity of Mr. Novick’s engagement with current drama. These articles consider the theatre as a social force, weigh the artist’s obligations to society, and all the while uncompromisingly demand that the theatre give its artistic best. Mr. Novick’s reviews show his respect for the past as well as his involvement with the present. He brings a thorough knowledge of dramatic tradition to bear on his reviews of modern productions, while his engagement with society’s current concerns enlivens his understanding of the past. There is a special resonance in his description of a production of Chekhov staged within the partly-ruined shell of an old Parisian theatre; it is a striking image of theatrical vitality renewing the theatrical past. Mr. Novick maintains high standards, both for himself as critic and for the artists he assesses. His reviews encourage the realization of those high standards in the theatre he ably serves.”
1980-81: Carolyn Clay and Sylviane Gold were joint winners of the George Jean Nathan Award, for articles published in the Boston Phoenix.
An actress turned critic, Carolyn Clay holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Boston University. While still in graduate school, she began writing theatre and book reviews for what was then Boston After Dark. In 1973, she joined the staff of the Boston Globe as a cultural reporter. She has been theatre editor of the Phoenix since 1976. She has also written film criticism for England’s Tatler magazine and New York’s 7 Days. Her writing about the arts has appeared in the New York Times and in Esquire, New York, and Bostonia magazines.
Ms. Gold is a proud product of New York City’s public schools, from kindergarten through Queens College. She has been writing about the performing arts since 1970, when she joined the entertainment department of the New York Post as the editorial clerk, a position previously held by another Nathan Award winner, Jay Carr. Her theatre criticism has appeared in the Post, the SoHo Weekly News, the Wall Street Journal, and Newsday. Other writing has been published by the New York Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as Elle, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. She has reviewed dance for Newsday and written a monthly theatre column for Dance magazine. She has also done time as an arts editor for the Phoenix, Newsday, and the New York Times. Since 1990, she has chaired the committee that selects a promising playwright to receive Newsday’s annual George Oppenheimer Award.
“In view of the excellence of periodical criticism this year, particularly of periodical criticism published in Boston, and more particularly of periodical criticism published in the Boston Phoenix, the George Jean Nathan Award Committee cannot rest content with giving only one award. Carolyn Clay and Sylviane Gold are writing splendid drama criticism, and among the more than forty newspaper and periodical critics whose work the Committee reviewed this year, they are the outstanding figures. Having failed to prove one of these critics superior to the other, the Committee is happy to report the more significant conclusion: that these writers, equal to each other, are superior to the rest.
“Carolyn Clay covers the Boston theatre and travels to the major regional theatres in Massachusetts. Sylviane Gold writes about the New York theatre. They both have a shrewd eye for the stage and a conviction that theatre is a collaborative activity. They write about set designers and wig makers along with playwrights and directors. Sylviane Gold’s review of Macbeth at Lincoln Center notices that the successes and failures of an uneven production cannot be charged to the director alone, but must be recognized as the result of interplay among many persons in the process of rehearsal. In writing about As You Like It at the American Repertory Theatre, Carolyn Clay knows that the Forest of Arden is a matter of costumes, properties, and physical gesture before it is a matter of a literary text, and so she describes the style of the performance and lets the text be thereby implied. These writers are at home in the theatre, and they have allowed their perceptions to be trained by the staging of plays.
“More than that, however, they insist on provoking their readers to think. Carolyn Clay’s review of The Cherry Orchard at the Williamstown Theatre Festival requires one to judge the business of assembling an all-star troupe in the summer against the actual origin of Chekhov’s play in the continuity and painstaking care of the Moscow Art Company under Stanislavski, and her account of Sweeney Todd in the touring version that came to Boston, manages to place that production in the entire tradition of the American musical. When Sylviane Gold writes about Amadeus, she not only writes about all of Shaffer’s major plays at the same time, she also writes about her fellow drama critics, noticing that each in his own way identifies with the mediocre Salieri and cannot accept Mozart’s genius. George Jean Nathan would have loved that. Nathan sought to provoke his readers into thinking too, and he loved to clear the air of pretentiousness. Carolyn Clay and Sylviane Gold run the same risks Nathan ran—the risks of being witty, natural, and clear-headed about a subject they love, the risks of debunking intellectual pretentiousness and abstraction, the risks of remaining true to the practices of theatre people, and insisting that the stage itself deserves the most serious intellectual regard. It is not only a Nathan Award, but also a Nathan habit of thought that we are celebrating as we bestow the 1980-81 prize on Carolyn Clay and Sylviane Gold.”
1979-80: Sean Mitchell, for reviews written for the Dallas Times Herald
Mr. Mitchell was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and grew up in Dallas, Texas, where his father was an arts administrator and amateur playwright and his mother a professional singer and songwriter. After graduating from Brown University in 1970, he taught high school English for two years, then embarked on a career in journalism. Following an internship at the Washington Star, he returned to Dallas to edit an alternative weekly and eventually joined the Dallas Times Herald as a feature writer, music, and theatre critic. He moved to Los Angeles in 1983 to cover Hollywood for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and now writes about theatre and film for the Los Angeles Times and other publications. He has been a critic-fellow at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and is the recipient of an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about music.
The Committee praised Mr. Mitchell for “unusual tact and poise, in addition to the qualities indispensible to superior dramatic criticism.”
1978-79: Jack Kroll, for reviews and essays published in Newsweek
Mr. Kroll received his undergraduate degree from the City College of New York and an M.A. from Hunter College. In 1963, he joined Newsweek as associate editor in charge of the Art section. The following year, he became senior editor, responsible for all the magazine’s Cultural sections; he subsequently became drama critic and senior editor and then critic-at-large. His honors include an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award. In 1973, he directed a special issue of Newsweek on “The Arts in America.” This issue won a National Magazine Award and a Page One Award from the Newspaper Guild of America. He served on the staff of Art News from 1960-63 and contributed numerous articles on contemporary art and literature to other periodicals.
The Award Committee praised Mr. Kroll for nine reviews and essays, describing him as “independent and courageous enough to insist upon the strengths of a play that has been ignored or panned by other reviewers.”
1977-78: Mel Gussow, for his essay “A Rich Crop of Writing Talent Brings New Life to the American Theater” and for his reporting of modern and classical drama in New York and, frequently, out of town, for the New York Times
Mr. Gussow earned an undergraduate degree from Middlebury and an M.S. from Columbia, and taught cinema studies at New York University. After serving as associate editor of Newsweek magazine, he became a drama critic and reporter for the New York Times. He has served as president of the New York Drama Critics Circle and received a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has contributed articles to Esquire, Playboy, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Cosmopolitan, and is the author of a biography of Darryl F. Zanuck, as well as five books of theatre criticism.
“There is perhaps no other living critic who is in closer touch with the new modes of production, new artists of importance, or new movements in modern dramaturgy than Mr. Gussow. He also writes most intelligently about revivals of plays from the earlier modern periods (e.g., Chekhov, Wedekind), and is in touch with the masters of classical styles (e.g., Molière, Shakespeare); but it was his obvious relish for current creativity, and his ability to write with grace and clarity, that led the Committee to choose him from many worthy candidates.”
1976-77: Bernard Knox, for his review of Andrei Serban’s production of Agamemnon at Lincoln Center, published in the New York Review of Books
Professor Knox, who was born in Yorkshire, England, received a B.A. from St. John’s College, Cambridge, an M.A. from Harvard, and a Ph.D. from Yale. A classics scholar, he served as Director of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC. The recipient of honorary degrees from Princeton and George Washington University, he was named a Guggenheim Fellow as well as the Sather Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1967, he received the Award for Literature from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Among his many books are The Heroic Temper, The Oldest Dead White European Males, and Backing into the Future: The Classical Tradition and Its Renewal. He is the editor of The Norton Book of Classical Literature and wrote the Introductions and notes for Robert Fagles’s translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
“It is one thing to know ancient drama with scholarly thoroughness; it is another to describe a Greek play in performance. The two abilities usually occur separately, and although the best drama reviewers become familiar with scholarship, rare is the scholar with an eye for the stage. Bernard Knox, long recognized as a distinguished scholar in the field of Greek tragedy and the author of indispensable books on Sophocles, has now brought his knowledge to bear on the theatre. In recent years he has published three essays on Aeschylus in the New York Review of Books, each dealing with the question of how classical tragedy can be brought alive to modern audiences. The first two essays dealt with problems of translation and stressed the need for English versions that could be spoken by real actors in real theatres (as opposed to ‘the steady bleat of dramatic verse doggedly penned by professors whose normal medium of self-expression is the footnote’). The third essay, and the one judged by the Award Committee to be the best single piece of American drama criticism published during 1976-77, concerned Andrei Serban’s production of the Agamemnon at Lincoln Center. This was a brilliant review of a major theatrical event. Instead of dismissing Serban for tampering with a revered classic (the common theme of many reviews), Mr. Knox recognized that the director was attempting to solve the central problem of this play by finding a new way to express long passages of lyric language that have lost their immediacy for modern audiences. That is what the invented mimes, dumb-shows, and dances sought to accomplish, and when they succeeded they created ‘that pity and fear which Aristotle named as the emotions proper to tragedy.’ For recognizing these intentions, for discriminating between their successful and unsuccessful applications, for placing this production in the context of other modern versions of Greek tragedy, and for seeing that it ‘has set standards against which future productions of Greek tragedy will be measured,’ Bernard Knox deserves to be singled out for an outstanding contribution to dramatic criticism.”
1975-76: Michael Goldman, for Dramatic Criticism for The Actor’s Freedom: Toward a Theory of Drama. In 1998-99 he became the third person to win the Nathan Award for a second time
[For biographical information, please see the entry for 1998-99.]
“Engaged, illumined, and provocative, Michael Goldman’s The Actor’s Freedom: Toward a Theory of Drama explores the mysterious vitality of theatre through its transformations by history and culture. Goldman, himself both scholar and actor, recreates for the general reader, as well as for the specialist, the uncanny power of impersonation—a power that springs from universal human fears and aspirations and is directed to the unfolding of selfhood. The Actor’s Freedom is, we believe, a centrally important statement in the area of art to which George Jean Nathan devoted his career as writer and critic. It measures well against Nathan’s own passionately upheld standards of excellence and his concern for the contemporary theatre.”
1973-74: Albert Bermel, for articles published in the New Leader
Mr. Bermel came to the U.S. in 1955 with a degree in economics from the University of London. He worked briefly for a men’s adventure magazine and as an editor for Avon Books before gaining his introduction to theatre criticism with Horizon Magazine. In 1964, he joined the New Leader as its theatre critic and, two years later, began his teaching career at Columbia University. Here, while continuing to write theatre reviews for the New Leader, he served as an associate professor (later adjunct professor) in the Theatre Arts Division of the School of the Arts. In 1972, he moved on to Lehman College and the Graduate Center of CUNY, where he subsequently became Professor of Theatre. When he won the Nathan Award, Bermel had written some fifteen plays, of which all but one had been produced. He is the author of many books and has written over 150 pieces of theatre criticism, translated many plays, and has served as a visiting professor of literature and drama at Rutgers, the State University of New York in Purchase, and the Juilliard School. He has given several NEH summer seminars for college and secondary school teachers. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship.
“The George Jean Nathan Award Committee takes pleasure in presenting its award for 1973-74 to Albert Bermel, theatre critic for the New Leader and author of Contradictory Characters: An Interpretation of the Modern Theatre, published last year. In making the award, the Committee wishes to cite in particular his reviews of the recent productions of Shakespeare’s Richard II and Macbeth, Christopher Hampton’s Total Eclipse, and Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. From among the many articles Mr. Bermel has written over the past year, these illustrate his flexibility as a reviewer of classic and contemporary plays and epitomize the visual sensitivity, critical taste, and trenchant wit he brings to all his writings on the theatre. Written out of the regular experience of theatregoing, they also complement the more extended reflections on modern play-wrights contained in his recent book. Mr. Bermel’s work, in its broad and deep commitment to the ongoing phenomenon of the stage, is in the best tradition of the George Jean Nathan Award.”
1972-73: Stanley Kauffmann, for his critical reviews of the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Much Ado About Nothing, Arthur Miller’s The Creation of the World and Other Business, David Storey’s The Changing Room, and Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and his article “The Sunshine Boys"
Mr. Kauffmann received his undergraduate degree from New York University. He was an actor and stage manager for Washington Square Players from 1931-41 and served as an editor for a number of presses. He has been an editor and film and theatre critic for the New Republic, and a drama critic for the New York Times and the Saturday Review. He served as visiting professor of drama at Adelphi University, Yale School of Drama, York College of the City University of New York, and Hunter College. He was named an Honorary Associate Fellow of Morse College of Yale University and has received Ford Foundation Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a George Polk Award for criticism, an Outstanding Teacher Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, and a Telluride Film Festival silver medal. He is the author of numerous plays, novels, and books of drama and film criticism.
The Award Committee emphasized in its citation that “Stanley Kauffmann seldom writes about a performance without developing some illuminating general theme.”
1971-72: Jay Carr, for his daily reviews in the Detroit News
Mr. Carr received his B.S. in Chemistry from the City College of New York. He discovered too late (just prior to graduation) that he had no particular affinity for chemistry and so switched his allegiance to writing. The motivation probably took root in college, where he edited the school newspaper and worked part-time at the Jersey City Journal as a police reporter. After graduation, he spent another couple of years full-time at the Journal, then went over to the New York Post in the same job capacity. Some time later, he gained his desired transfer to the Post drama department. In between, he put in two years with the Army, and in 1964, he began his career in earnest on the Detroit News.
“Mr. Carr has produced in his daily reviewing a body of dramatic criticism remarkable for its range and solidity. It is a lucid and self-effacing criticism, sensitive to details of theatrical technique, no less than thematic substance. For particularly noteworthy illustrations of these qualities, the Committee cites Mr. Carr’s reviews of the Stratford production of As You Like It, the Roundabout Theatre production of a play called Conditions of Agreement, and the Open Theatre production of Terminal.”
1970-71: Richard Gilman, for Common and Uncommon Masks: Writings on Theatre 1961-1970
Mr. Gilman received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin. He began a weekly column for Commonweal in 1961 and continued to write for that publication, serving as literary editor until 1964, when he joined Newsweek as drama editor. In 1967, he moved to the New Republic for a brief tenure as literary editor; later that year, he became a professor at the Yale Drama School. He also taught at Columbia (filling in for an earlier Nathan Award winner, Robert Brustein) and at Stanford, and served on the faculty of the Salzburg Seminar. His first book, The Confusion of Realms, is a collection of essays on the theatrical arts in modern society. His other books include The Making of Modern Drama, Decadence: The Strange Life of an Epithet, Faith, Sex, Mystery—A Memoir, and Chekhov’s Plays–An Opening into Eternity. He retired from Yale in 1998 with the status of Professor Emeritus.
“Mr. Gilman’s creative critical perceptions build a unified view of both traditional and innovative drama in today’s theatre. The collection of essays published under the title Common and Uncommon Tasks is a notable contribution to contemporary dramatic criticism, characterized by intellectual scope, practical knowledge, and genuine concern for the state of the theatre in our times. It admirably fulfills Nathan’s initial terms for the Award: ‘It is my object and desire to encourage and assist in developing the art of drama criticism and the stimulation of intelligent playgoing.’”
1969-70: John Simon, for reviews published in the Hudson Review and New York magazine
Mr. Simon earned an A.B. and Ph.D. from Harvard University and taught there and at the University of Washington, MIT, and Bard. He has served as a theatre critic for the Hudson Review, the New Leader, and Commonweal, and as a film critic for Esquire. He became theatre critic for New York magazine in 1968, and also wrote film criticism for the National Review from 1980-2001. He is the author of fifteen books, including The Prose Poem as a Genre in Nineteenth-Century European Literature, Reverse Angle: A Decade of American Films, Something to Declare: Twelve Years of Films from Abroad, The Sheep from the Goats: Selected Literary Essays, and Dreamers of Dreams: Essays on Poets and Poetry. His honors include an honorary doctorate from Adelphi University, a Fulbright fellowship, a Rockefeller travel grant, and the George Polk Memorial Award for film criticism.
“It was the unanimous view of the George Jean Nathan Award Committee that John Simon’s contributions to the Hudson Review and to New York have been the most substantial and valuable dramatic criticism of the year. The Committee singled out the Spring 1969 Theatre Chronicle in the Hudson Review for special praise, but the entire body of his work was certainly considered as the basis of the award. The Committee was particularly impressed by the honesty, verve, and resistance to fashionable cant that run through his work; and no less impressed by the depth of learning that gives his judgments resonance. This was perhaps most evident in the article on Peer Gynt. At any rate, it was an award the Committee was very happy to make, in the hope that it will do a little to encourage a kind of work that is being carried on by all too few hands.”
1968-69: John Lahr, for his reviews in Evergreen Review and the Village Voice. In 1993-94, he became the second person to win the George Jean Nathan Award for a second time.
[For biographical information on Mr. Lahr, please see 1993-94.]
“The George Jean Nathan Drama Criticism Award Committee is very pleased to announce that it has chosen John Lahr as the author of the best piece of drama criticism written during the theatrical year 1968-69. The Committee has designated as the award-winning essay Mr. Lahr’s ‘In Search of a New Mythology’ (Evergreen Review, No. 62, January, 1969); it has at the same time been impressed by the very high level of drama criticism which Mr. Lahr has sustained in all of his Evergreen Review pieces during the past theatrical year. Like the prize-winning essay, Mr. Lahr’s other essays and reviews are distinguished by their intelligence and their engagement with the theatre as an art-form capable of making an important contribution to American culture. Mr. Lahr’s work is marked by respect for the whole range of drama past and present, sympathy with current efforts to discover new dramatic structures and theatrical experiences, and objective appraisal of the complex social environment which limits both the being and the becoming of American theatre. It is marked, too, by a prose style which is felicitous, cogent, and exact, a style adequate both to the critic’s insights and to the demands of writing about a wide variety of theatrical productions. At the beginning of the second decade of its work, the Award Committee is happy to give the prize to a young critic who so amply embodies the purposes of George Jean Nathan in establishing his generous annual award: ‘to encourage and assist in developing the art of drama criticism and the stimulation of intelligent playgoing.’”
1967-68: Martin Gottfried, for A Theater Divided: The Postwar American Stage
Mr. Gottfried received his undergraduate degree from Columbia College and then attended Columbia Law School for three semesters before deciding that he was spending more time at Professor Meyer Shapiro’s art history lectures than in law class. After a year in Europe with U.S. Army Military Intelligence, he began his writing career, doubling as the classical music critic for the Village Voice and the Off-Broadway drama critic for Women’s Wear Daily. In 1963, he became the senior critic at Women’s Wear Daily and at 29 became the youngest person ever elected to the New York Drama Critics Circle. He went on to become the drama critic for the New York Post and Saturday Review. Mr. Gottfried received two Rockefeller Grants, during which he wrote A Theater Divided. His other books include Opening Nights (a collection of his theatre essays), Broadway Musicals, The Curse of Genius (the biography of Jed Harris), In Person, Sondheim, All His Jazz (the biography of Bob Fosse), More Broadway Musicals, Nobody’s Fool (the biography of Danny Kaye), George Burns and The Hundred Year Dash, Balancing Act (the biography of Angela Lansbury), and Arthur Miller: His Life and Work.
“Mr. Gottfried’s recent book, A Theater Divided, is a carefully sustained and unified point of view about the contemporary theatre. Its argument is clearly, forcefully, and often eloquently voiced. The author clearly loves the drama and has spared no pains to inform himself of all its current manifestations. Furthermore, although he can be unsparing in his condemnation of dramatic representations which do not come up to his high standards, he finds reason for a most heartwarming optimism about the directions which the theatre may henceforth take.”
1966-67: Elizabeth Hardwick, for a series of reviews and discussions published in the New York Review of Books
Ms. Hardwick was one of the founders, in 1962, of the New York Review. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kentucky and also did graduate work at Columbia. She is the author of three novels and numerous books of literary criticism, as well as short stories, many of which have been anthologized. Her 1979 novel, Sleepless Nights, won a National Book Critics Circle Award nomination. Among the journals in which her essays have appeared are Partisan Review and the New York Review of Books. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Award and has served as adjunct professor of English at Barnard. She is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, which awarded her the Gold Medal for Belles-Lettres and Criticism.
1965-66: Eric Russell Bentley, for a series of articles, two of which (“Tragico Imperatore” and “An Un-American Chalk Circle”) appeared in the Tulane Drama Review (TDR)
Mr. Bentley has two degrees from Oxford, followed by a doctorate from Yale in l941. He has taught at the University of California, Black Mountain College, the University of Minnesota, Columbia University, and other universities and was Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard, l960-61. Most of his plays are contained in the three volumes, Monstrous Martyrdoms, Rallying Cries, and The Kleist Variations. Most of his theatre reviews are in What is Theatre? His critical work ranges from The Playwright as Thinker to Thinking about the Playwright. He reached a wider body of readers in the anthologies he edited: the ten volumes that make up The Modern Theatre and The Classic Theatre as well as The Great Playwrights, and an excursion into American politics, Thirty Years of Treason.
“Mr. Bentley’s skillful blend of scholarship and acute critical judgment reflects the high standard of dramatic criticism to be found in all of his writings. Through his critical writings, his work as an editor and translator dedicated to the task of making the best European drama available to the American public, and his intense interest and involvement in the producing theatre, most recently in important productions of the work of Bertolt Brecht, he has made a major contribution to the shaping and conditioning of what is best about contemporary American theatre.”
1964-65: Gerald Weales, for a series of drama reviews that appeared in Drama Survey
Mr. Weales received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Columbia. When he received the Nathan Award, he reviewed drama regularly for The Reporter while serving as an Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania; he became Professor Emeritus in 1987. From 1968-93 he reviewed drama for Commonweal, and in 1978, he began an annual American Theatre Watch for The Georgia Review. He edited Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and The Crucible for Viking-Penguin. His many critical works include American Drama Since World War II, Jumping-Off Place: American Drama in the 1960s, Clifford Odets, Playwright, and Canned Goods as Caviar: American Film Comedy of the 1930s. In 1979, he taught as a Senior Fulbright Scholar in Sri Lanka and at the American Studies Research Center in Hyderabad, India. His honors include a Rockefeller Foundation residency at Bellagio and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
1963-64: Elliot Norton, for his daily reviews for the Boston Record American and Sunday Advertiser
Mr. Norton was educated at Harvard. He received honorary degrees from Emerson College, Suffolk University, and Fairfield University, and taught at Emerson and at Boston University. He joined the Boston Post as a reporter in 1926 and became the drama critic for the paper in 1934. With the death of the Post in 1956, he went to the Daily Record and then to the Record American. In 1958, he began reviewing plays on television, in discussion with playwrights, directors, and authors. He was the recipient of the Rodgers and Hammerstein College Presidents Award for the person who had done the most for the theatre in Boston during the year, as well as the George Foster Peabody Award for his television program.
“Elliot Norton is the first person to win the George Jean Nathan Award purely on the merit of daily reviews done under the pressure of meeting deadlines shortly after seeing plays. In thirty years of service to the American theatre as a Boston critic, he has represented many of the qualities in George Jean Nathan’s own career. In his station in the front line of drama criticism, he has often been of service to shows preparing for Broadway with his vigorous and informed reactions to their tryouts. He also makes a point of keeping the Boston audience informed about the theatre outside of Boston through his reviewing tours. His writings in various papers over the years and his television program, Elliot Norton Reviews, represent a continuing effort on his part to stimulate interest in the theatre and to educate playgoers.”
1962-63: Walter Kerr, for The Theater in Spite of Itself, a collection of his reviews
Mr. Kerr began writing movie and drama criticism in the mid-1920s for the Evanston Review, Evanston, Illinois, and then for the Evanston News-Index. He taught speech and drama at Catholic University and served as drama critic for Commonweal, subsequently moving to the New York Herald Tribune and then the New York Times. He also directed plays, including several of his own, and was the author of eleven books. He received honorary degrees from St. Mary’s College, Fordham University, LaSalle College, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Michigan, and Northwestern University, as well as the Dineen Award (National Catholic Theatre Conference), the Iona Award, the Campion Award, the Laetare Medal, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award. In 1978, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama criticism. He died in 1996.
“The Theater in Spite of Itself consists of a collection of Mr. Kerr’s first-night reviews, Sunday pieces, and magazine articles from several years. Ranging from particular productions to theatre economics and dramatic theory, the book reveals Mr. Kerr’s command of the entire gamut of problems facing the contemporary theatre.”
1961-62: Robert Brustein, for his reviews for Commentary, Partisan Review, and Harpers, in addition to the regular reviews he contributed to the New Republic as staff critic. In 1986-87, he became the first person to win the Nathan Award for a second time.
[For biographical information, please see the entry for 1986-87.]
“The Nathan Award Committee finds impressive the high quality of Mr. Brustein’s reviews throughout the year, and has special praise for the New Republic reviews, which are characterized by a skillful blend of scholarship, acute critical judgment, wit, and graceful expression. Typical of the unusually high standard sustained throughout are the reviews of Gideon (November, 1961), entitled ‘All Hail, Mahomet of Middle Seriousness,’ and of Rosmersholm (April, 1962), entitled ‘The Shadow of a Noble Shadow.’”
1960-61: Jerry Tallmer, for reviews, particularly of Off-Broadway theatre, written for the Village Voice
A graduate of Dartmouth, Mr. Tallmer was associate editor and drama critic of the Village Voice, of which he was a founder and where he originated the Off-Broadway (Obie) Awards. From 1962-74, he was drama editor and Off-Broadway critic for the New York Post. He also wrote articles for Playboy, Cavalier, Evergreen Review, Encore, Dissent, the Montreal Star, and other publications. In 1964, he received a Ford Foundation grant.
1959-60: C. L. Barber, then Professor of English at Amherst College, received the George Jean Nathan Award for Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy.
Cesar Lombardi Barber received an A.B. from Harvard. He was a Henry Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge University, and a Junior Fellow at Harvard, and he was twice a Fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library. He taught at Harvard and served as a visiting Professor at Princeton. He later became Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
“C. L. Barber’s Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy is one of those rare books which is at once a masterful piece of scholarly research and a clear, illuminating critical treatment of a group of important plays, the comedies of Shakespeare written before 1600. Criticism and scholarship have notoriously been unable to explain just why such plays as The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the two parts of Henry IV, so apparently unfashionable in their methods and in many cases so apparently trivial in subject matter, should remain so fascinating to theatregoers that they have held the stage from Shakespeare’s day to the present age of the realistic theatre. Professor Barber has provided the answer. He shows that these comedies dramatize a basic sense of life, a pattern of felt existence, which the Elizabethans ordinarily expressed in such popular doings as May Day celebrations, feasts of misrule, mummings, and midsummer festivals where man was freed for a brief time from the ordinary social restraints to feel at one with a generous nature, only to learn that in the end he must return to the normal, orderly world. This movement from holiday to everyday, from carnival to formal act, Barber makes clear, is the fundamental pattern of Shakespeare’s early comedies. His discussion of the plays provides both a fascinating explanation of their eternal attractiveness and a truly distinguished exploration of the nature of the bond between life and the theatre.”
1958-59: Harold Clurman, for his book of reviews and essays, Lies Like Truth: Theatre Reviews and Essays
Mr. Clurman, who attended Columbia University and the Sorbonne, was a leading figure in the American theatre from the 1920s. He served as drama critic for the Nation, and was a play reader, actor, stage manager, and producer of plays both on Broadway and in Hollywood. These include such dramas as Sidney Kingsley’s Men in White, Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy, William Saroyan’s My Heart’s in the Highlands, Konstantin Simonov’s The Whole World Over, Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms, William Inge’s Bus Stop, and others.
“Lies Like Truth for the most part collects Harold Clurman’s theatre reviews written between 1947 and 1957 for Tomorrow Magazine, the New Republic, and the Nation. The book’s germinal theme is that ‘the theatre, in its every dimension, must be judged on the basis of what is being expressed, and how well.’ The essays and reviews deal with American playwrights, plays and musical comedy, European playwrights, and with the theatres of England, France, and Germany. In addition to awarding the prize to Mr. Clurman for Lies Like Truth, the Nathan Award Committee commends him for his activities as dramatic critic of the Nation, his role in helping to found and sustain the Group Theatre, and his impressive achievements as a stage director.”