I recently wrote about Lynn Nottage’s important play “Ruined,” which, since that blog post, has received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama. It has also received five  Drama Desk Award nominations: for outstanding play, actress, featured actress, director, and music. Such critical acclaim virtually assures that the play’s run will be extended. It is also likerlier that the production will be moved from off-Broadway to Broadway itself. (“Gypsy” also appeared first at the City Center, before moving on to the brighter lights and higher prices of the Great White Way.) All the acclaim for “Ruin” should also move you to see this play if you still haven’t.
 
Major awards—like the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, the Booker Prize, and the Tony, the Drama Desk Award, the Oscar, and the Emmy (please add your own to the list)—perform a service, I find. Since my life is so busy, and since theater, particularly Broadway theater, is so expensive, I have to be choosy about how I spend my leisure time and dollars. So I depend on awards, as well as on reviews and the recommendations of friends, of course, whenever I want to see a play, buy a book, or watch a film or video. And although I don’t always agree with the prize committees after I have taken in these award-winning works, it helps me to see what today’s cultural arbitrators deem to be important and to join in that ongoing conversation. In the case of “Ruined,” however, the reviews were so outstanding that I bought my ticket before the awards were handed out.
 
The New York Public Library also publishes lists of great books, which they send out in promotional mailings and the New York Times Book Review tallies ongoing “winners” throughout any given year.  I like such lists, because I tend to check off mentally the books I have read, while noting those I haven’t yet read. Sometimes I even pick up one of the latter at the library or at a bookstore, and jump into the pages with a kind of satisfaction that comes from thinking that I’m feasting on one of the best.  That feeling is like the assurance one has after consulting a great travel guide and walking past a top-of-the-list café or restaurant a few times before going in. Have you ever done that? I take stock of just what kind of people are patronizing the place, how they look, what they are doing, and so on. All that listing, observing, stock-taking before I decide to step inside myself…and become one of them.

Karen Sue Smith