Playwright Cori Thomas, a New York-based writer who has lived in seven countries, has won the American Theatre Critics Association’s M. Elizabeth Osborn Award for her play When January Feels Like Summer, a dark comedy about a multicultural neighborhood and its residents’ search for assimilation and identity.
Thomas will receive the $1,000 prize — meant to honor a playwright who has not yet won national attention — April 2 in Louisville, Ky., at the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
(I was one of the members of the ATCA awards committee that chose Thomas for this prize.)
Here’s more on Thomas and her play:
The Osborn Award recognizes Thomas’ play When January Feels Like Summer, which premiered in March 2010 at City Theatre in Pittsburgh (director Chuck Patterson, artistic director Tracy Brigden), supported in part by the Edgerton Foundation fund for new American plays. It received an initial reading there at the 2007 Momentum Festival and was developed in part at the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in 2008.
Thomas was born in New York to a Liberian diplomat and a Brazilian mother, but lived in seven countries before returning to the United States to attend school. She studied theater at Marymount Manhattan College. A lifetime member of the acting/writing ensemble of the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City, her plays include: His Daddy; Pa’s Hat: Liberian Legacy; our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor and My Secret Language of Wishes. She has been a finalist for a Juilliard Fellowship and the National Playwrights Conference at the O’Neill Festival and was nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. She recently received a commission from South Coast Repertory Theatre and the Sloan Foundation.
Her street-smart When January Feels Like Summer is a comic and touching tale of love, sex, redemption and the survival of the American Dream in the 21st century, amid the struggle with the polar attractions of identity and assimilation. Thomas stirs together a diverse group of urban dwellers on an atypically warm winter month: a middle-aged African American sanitation worker, an East Indian shopkeeper whose husband from a loveless marriage is in a coma, her brother in the midst of a transgender transformation, and two bright homeboys trying to understand everything from global warming to meeting girls. All are on a quest for the healing power of true love, a mythic journey presided over by the Hindu god Ganesh, lord of the removal of obstacles.
The Osborn Award is designed to recognize the work of an author who has not yet achieved national stature – e.g., has not had a significant New York production or been staged widely in regional theaters. Last year’s Osborn Award went to Jason Wells for Perfect Mendacity. Previous winners included Rebecca Gilman and Keith Glover.
The award was established in 1993 to honor the memory of Theatre Communications Group and American Theatre play editor M. Elizabeth Osborn. It carries a $1,000 prize, funded by the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association. Honorees are recognized in The Best Plays Theater Yearbook, edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, the annual chronicle of United States theater. Making the selection from plays nominated by ATCA members is the ATCA New Plays Committee, chaired by Wm. F. Hirschman, which also selects honorees for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award.
ATCA was founded in 1974 and works to raise critical standards and public awareness of critics’ functions and responsibilities. The only national association of professional theater critics, it has several hundred members who work for newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and websites across the United States. ATCA is a national section of the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.
ATCA also presents the Francesca Primus Prize, funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, honoring contributions to the American theater by female artists who have not yet achieved national prominence. It makes recommendations for the Regional Theater Tony Award presented by the American Theatre Wing/Broadway League and votes on inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.
For more information on ATCA, visit www.americantheatrecritics.org.