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Theater critic Charles McNulty wins Nathan Award

Charles McNulty, chief theater critic for the Los Angeles Times, is the winner of the 2009-10 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, administered by Cornell University's Department of English.

The award, for "the best piece of drama criticism during the theatrical year," is chosen by a committee of the heads of the English departments of Cornell, Princeton and Yale universities.

The Nathan Award committee honored McNulty for his theater reviews and essays published in the Los Angeles Times, citing him as an astute chronicler of individual productions as well as trends in contemporary playwriting who has emerged as an articulate and forceful critic of the state of the professional theater in the United States.

According to the award committee, "McNulty provides an ideal balance of context and critique, exemplifying Nathan's call for dramatic criticism that will stimulate 'intelligent playgoing.'" The Nathan committee particularly commended 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 theater today; according to the committee, "McNulty's pointed questioning of the priorities and vision of the not-for-profit theater 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."

McNulty was formerly a theater critic and editor at The Village Voice, and has written for Variety and Yale/Theater. He received his M.F.A. and D.F.A. degrees in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism from the Yale School of Drama, and has served on the faculties of New York University, Brooklyn College, the University of Southern California, and the University of California at Los Angeles. As a professional dramaturg and literary manager, he has worked for the McCarter Theater, the Yale Repertory Theatre and the Public Theatre. From 2003-05, McNulty chaired the Obie Awards, and in 2009-10 he chaired the committee for the Pulitzer Prize in drama.

The Nathan Award was endowed by George Jean Nathan (1882-1958), a prominent theater critic who published 34 books on the theater and co-edited (with H.L. Mencken) two influential magazines, The Smart Set and The American Mercury. Nathan graduated from Cornell in 1904; while a student, he served as editor of both the Cornell Daily Sun and the humor magazine The Cornell Widow.

The award has been given annually since 1959. Previous winners include Walter Kerr, Jack Kroll, Elliot Norton, Bonnie Marranca, Charles Isherwood, Mel Gussow, Elinor Fuchs, Michael Feingold, Ben Brantley, and last year's winner, Yale professor Marc Robinson. The award consists of $10,000 and a statuette, which will be presented to McNulty at an upcoming ceremony. For more information about the Nathan Award, visit http://www.arts.cornell.edu/english/awards/nathan/.

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Blaine Friedlander