Alexis Soloski, a theater critic for The New York Times, has been named winner of the 2020-21 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism.
The award committee noted that Soloski’s articles about theater during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic “transcended the limits of traditional reviews” and showed “insight, empathy, and wit.”
The committee comprises the heads of the English departments of Cornell, Princeton University and Yale University, and is administered by Cornell’s Department of English in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The prize committee wrote that in Soloski’s reviews of inventive works such as Zoom magic shows, “remote immersive” theater, and other spectacles managed by e-mail, text, FaceTime, and FedEx, “she enlarged our sense of what counts as performance, and what it means to be a spectator.”
Soloski’s most memorable work, wrote the committee, “said as much about her as about performance. In these articles, she closed the distance between writer and reader, as if to compensate for the remoteness of current theater.”
In particular, the committee cited her essay, “There’s No Place Like Home (Theater)” an account of several interactive online productions, as offering an intimate portrait of the challenge Soloski met in order to perform her role as spectator – adding that Soloski speaks for herself as well as all the theater artists improvising their way through this crisis.
In the piece, wrote the committee: “Domestic dramas distract from scripted ones. A child calls out from ‘Mommy’s Disaster Montessori.’ Play-Doh gets stuck to the carpet. The laundry piles up and the wine runs out. In her candor, Soloski reminds us that attention requires (and deserves) such energy even in the best of times.”
The 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; as a student, he served as editor of The Cornell Daily Sun and the humor magazine The Cornell Widow.
An archive of Nathan’s papers, correspondence, books and related artifacts are held in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in the Cornell University Library.
Recent Nathan Award winners include Soraya Nadia McDonald, John H. Muse, Helen Shaw and Sara Holdren.