Pulitzer Prize-winning play has Williamstown roots

This story has been modified to correct the name of Wendell Pierce.

A play that was developed and first produced at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2016 has won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Directed by Jo Bonney, Martyna Majok's "Cost of Living" was produced in the festival's Nikos Stage in July 2016 with a cast that included Wendell Pierce, Katy Sullivan, Rebecca Naomi Jones and Gregg Mozgala. The play opened last June at Manhattan Theatre Club in New York where, the New York Times says, it "received plaudits for its striking portrait of the obstacles that come with having a physical disability and privilege that exists in unexpected places."

Bonney directed the New York production with a cast that included Sullivan, Mozgala, Jolly Abraham and Victor Williams.

In an e-mail to The Berkshire Eagle, Williamstown Theatre Festival artistic director Mandy Greenfield said everyone at the festival is "proud, giddy and overjoyed" at the award. Thanking her board of trustees and audiences for their support of the play, Greenfield said "everyone connected to the Festival feels a sense of joy to have been there at the start of this play's long life."

According to the Times, Majok is a 33-year-old Polish immigrant "who saw her first theater show at 17 after winning $45 from playing pool. She initially wrote 'Cost of Living' as a short work called 'John, Who's Here From Cambridge.'"

Her four-character play focuses on two situations — one involving a truck driver named Eddie who is struggling to rebuild a relationship with his estranged wife, Ani, who has lost both her lower legs in a horrible car accident; the other involving a young woman named Jess, who works at a bar by night and is trying to navigate a much-need but demanding daytime job as caregiver for a bright Harvard PhD. named John, who has cerebral palsy and a speech defect.

"We are grateful to the exquisitely talented artists who helped us breathe life into Martyna's fresh and provocative play and to Manhattan Theatre Club where it enjoyed a long and successful subsequent run," Greenfield commented.

"Mostly," she said, "we are thrilled that the Pulitzer Prize committee enlarges the impact of [this play] with this award. [My hope is] it will be done all over the country. [I think] its theatrical and sensitive exploration of human dignity, vulnerability and strength in and among people of all abilities will resonate with and transform audiences nationwide, just as it did right here in Williamstown, at the start."

Nominated as finalists for the drama prize were "Everybody" by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and "The Minutes" by Tracy Letts.

In additional arts and letters honors, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded to Andrew Sean Greer's novel "Less," which tells the comic story about the misbegotten adventures of a middle-aged novelist. It didn't receive the same attention as Jesmyn Ward's "Sing, Unburied, Sing," winner of the National Book Award, or George Saunders' "Lincoln in the Bardo." But it was widely praised as poignant and funny and was ranked among the year's best by The Washington Post, which called it an "elegantly" told story of a man who "loses everything: his lover, his suitcase, his beard, his dignity."

Nominated as finalists were "In the Distance" by Hernan Diaz and "The Idiot" by Elif Batuman.

Frank Bidart's "Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016," winner of a National Book Award last fall, received the Pulitzer for poetry. Bidart, who turns 80 next month, is one of the country's most acclaimed poets and has been a Pulitzer finalist before. His previous works include "Desire" and Star Dust."

"Everything I've done is in that book, so it really does mean a lot," Bidart said Monday. "It means more than any of the times I've been a finalist in the past."

Other arts and letters winners and finalist nominees:

- Criticism: Jerry Saltz of New York magazine for his work on visual art in America.

Also nominated as finalists — Carlos Lozada of The Washington Post for his books on criticism, and Manohla Dargis of The New York Times for columns about the exploitation of women in Hollywood.

- History: "The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea," by Jack E. Davis

Also nominated as finalists — "Fear City: New York's Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics," by Kim Phillips-Fein and "Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America," by Steven J. Ross

- Biography or Autobiography: "Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder," by Caroline Fraser

Also nominated as finalists — "Richard Nixon: The Life," by John A. Farrell and "Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character," by Kay Redfield Jamison

- General Nonfiction: "Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America," by James Forman Jr.

Also nominated as finalists — "Notes on a Foreign Country: America Abroad in a Post-America World" by Suzy Hansen and "The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us," by Richard O. Prum

This article incorporates material from The New York Times and The Associated Press. Berkshire Eagle arts editor and theater writer and critic Jeffrey Borak also contributed.


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