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CUL Kennedy Prize

Statements by the Judges

2018 Judges’ Statement
Junk by Ayad Akhtar

Junk takes on the vexed question of inequity dividing American society. It trenchantly examines the financial behavior and the flawed system of thought in the 1980s that paved the way for the polarized world in which we now live—manufacturing debt. In doing so, it speaks directly to the aims of the prize, enlisting theater’s power to explore America’s past, and through that, speak to our present, so crucial to the health of our democracy.”


2017 Judges’ Statement
A 24-Decade History of Popular Music by Taylor Mac and Matt Ray

“A vast, immersive, subversive, audacious and outrageous theater experience, Mac’s and Ray’s piece employs a variety of performance techniques to illuminate and explore our country’s history as seen through the lens of its popular music. This piece shows, in Mac’s words, how ‘in America, the oppressor is forgiven but the outsider is vilified.’”


2016 Judges’ Statement
Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Out of an extraordinary group of plays that brilliantly illuminate aspects of American history, the committee voted unanimously to award the Edward M. Kennedy prize to Hamilton. The committee felt that the spirit of the award is exemplified in this play. It enlists theater’s power to explore the past of the United States, participating meaningfully in the great issues of our day and grounded in the historical understanding that is essential to the functioning of a democracy. Technically so proficient, historically so sound, artistically so groundbreaking, Hamilton is both inspired by and celebrates the evolving history of the United States, of hip-hop, and of the musical theater.


2015 Judges’ Statement
Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3 by Suzan-Lori Parks

The jury deeply admires all five of this year’s nominated works and was struck by the fact that each in its own way addresses, with eloquence and insight, the as-yet-unhealed traumas brought on by the legacy of American slavery. From amongst this distinguished group, the jury awards the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History to Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3 by Suzan-Lori Parks.  The story of Hero, a slave who chooses to fight on behalf of the Confederacy, feels fresh and alive, shining new light on the complicated nature of freedom. In its unflinching treatment of homecoming, betrayal and heroism, Father Comes Home from the Wars announces itself as an iconic work that challenges and engages Western theatrical tradition while providing a compelling contribution to the urgent American conversation about race.


2014 Judges’ Statement
Detroit ’67 by Dominique Morriseau

This year’s jury has unanimously chosen to award the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama inspired by American History to Detroit ’67 by Dominique Morisseau. The first in a 3-play cycle about her hometown Detroit, the play explores an explosive and decisive moment in a great American city. The jury was completely drawn into the world of Detroit ’67, whose  compelling characters struggle with racial tension and economic instability. The jury also felt strongly that the play powerfully exemplifies the goals of the Kennedy Prize. Detroit ’67 is a work grounded in historical understanding that also comments meaningfully on the pressing issues of our day.


2013 Judges’ Statement
All the Way by Robert Schenkkan and The Body of an American by Dan O’Brien

The judges of the inaugural Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History have unanimously voted to divide this year´s award between two exceptionally deserving plays: Dan O´Brien´s The Body of an American and Robert Schenkkan´s All the Way.  Each dramatist will be awarded $50,000.

All the Way vividly captures a period of great turmoil and consequence in American history, from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 through Election Night, 1964.  It´s a sprawling drama, its unfolding story told by many of those who shaped the history of our nation at this critical moment, including Martin Luther King, Hubert Humphrey, J. Edgar Hoover, and most of all, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who deftly steers a Civil Rights Bill through a divided Congress.

The Body of an American speaks to a more recent moment in our history, when a single, stark photograph–of the body of an American soldier dragged from the wreck of a Blackhawk through the streets of Mogadishu–reshaped the course of global events.  In powerful, theatrical language, Dan O’Brien explores the ethical and personal consequences of Paul Watson’s photograph, as well as the interplay between political upheaval and the experience of trauma in an age saturated by images and information.

Both plays exemplify the mission of the Kennedy prize, participating in meaningful ways “in the great issues of our day through the public conversation, grounded in historical understanding, that is essential to the functioning of a democracy.” It was the unanimous decision of the committee to honor two plays this year to represent the broad and exciting spectrum of work the award might encourage.