The Columbia University's prize board on Monday gave the playwright, who is in her early 30s, the prize for her play about friendship, morality and loyalty. The university said it was "a hilarious and heart-rending cry for authenticity in a fast-changing world."
It played off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons last year, becoming a topic of discussion when a small group of early theatergoers found it too long at 3 hours and 15 minutes and walked out. But critics found it challenging and rewarding, and it soon won over audience members, running for months.
In "The Flick," three relatively youthful, low-paid employees work together in a theater in Massachusetts that still shows 35-millimeter movies on film. Everyday jealousies, disappointments and anger share the stage with jokes, chit-chat, occasional poignant revelations and a lot of workplace tedium.
Baker, 33, beat out "The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence," by Madeleine George, which also played Playwrights Horizons, and "Fun Home," with a book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori, which played the Public Theater.
Baker was traveling to a Passover seder on Monday and unreachable for comment. But plans are already in the works to mount her winning play in New York again: Film and theater producer Scott Rudin, who owns the option on "The Flick," hopes to remount the play at the Barrow Street Theater with the same cast from Playwrights Horizons, according to a spokesman, Philip Rinaldi.
If Monday was a big day for women in the theater — all four finalists are women — it also was a big day for Playwrights Horizons, one of the most consistently exciting theater companies in the city.
"Doing new plays is always an adventure and you do your best on every single one of them. I kind of approach them the same, in a way, because it's so impossible to predict," said Tim Sanford, artistic director of Playwrights Horizons.
Sanford said Baker's play "had it all," with characters, archetypes and "a heroic sweep." He called it "sheer brilliance." He acknowledged that perhaps it was longer than most subscribers were used to, but he noted that it was as long as some August Wilson plays.
"I would always much rather have a play where a smaller percentage of the audience hates it and a larger percentage of the audience adores it rather than have a play that no one can quite remember," said Sanford.
A native of Amherst, Mass., Baker has created a name for herself for creating minutely detailed worlds filled with silences and minimal information. Her other plays include "Circle Mirror Transformation," ''Body Awareness" and "The Aliens."
The drama award, which includes a $10,000 prize, is "for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life," according to the official guidelines.
The production must have opened during 2013 to be eligible for this year's award. Previous playwrights honored include August Wilson, Edward Albee, Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.
Last year's winner was Ayad Akhtar's "Disgraced," a play about a successful Pakistani-American lawyer whose dinner party spins out of control. The year before, it was "Water By the Spoonful" by Quiara Alegria Hudes.
The win for "The Flick" continues a recent trend that has off-Broadway and closed shows winning of one theater's greatest prizes, something very unlikely 10 years ago.
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