Theater critics announces finalists for national new-play award

The American Theatre Critics Association have named six finalists for the organization’s annual Steinberg/ATCA New Play Awards. The winner will receive a $25,000 prize, and two others will receive $7,500 apiece.

Winners will be announced March 27 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky.

A personal note: I’m on the panel of 13 critics who read all the submissions and chose these six finalists, and I wrote the essay for the forthcoming Best Plays Theatre Yearbook on last year’s winner, E.M. Lewis’s Song of Extinction.

The finalists:

  • Equivocation, by Bill Cain, premiered April 18 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and later played at Seattle Repertory Theatre.
  • Inana, by Michele Lowe, premiered  in January 2009 at the Denver Center Theatre Company’s Colorado New Plays Summit.
  • Legacy of Light, by Karen Zacharias,  premiered May 8, 2009 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
  • Perfect Mendacity, by Jason Wells, premiered May 14, 2009 at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota.
  • Time Stands Still, by Donald Margulies, premiered at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles on Feb. 11, 2009.
  • Victoria Musica, also by Michele Lowe, was first produced Sept. 26, 2009, by the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

Here’s the official word:

U.S. theater critics name six finalists for 2010 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award — largest in the nation

The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has selected six finalists for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, recognizing the best scripts which premiered professionally outside New York City during 2009.

The award and two citations will be presented March 27 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. The award includes a commemorative plaque and $25,000; the citations carry prizes of $7,500 each.

The finalists:

  • Equivocation, by Bill Cain, is a  highly theatrical fantasy that mixes wry comedy and shattering drama. King James’ prime minister commissions Shakespeare’s company to write and perform the official (and highly suspect) government account of Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot. Shakespeare becomes increasingly skeptical, forcing him to weigh the relationship of art and government, artists’ integrity, and personal responsibility to truth. It premiered April 18 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and later played at Seattle Repertory Theatre.
  • Inana, by Michele Lowe, bowed in January 2009 at the Denver Center Theatre Company’s Colorado New Plays Summit. It depicts the Iraqi curator of the antiquities museum in Mosul who has taken his bride on a London honeymoon just before the American invasion. It appears he has smuggled an iconic statue out of the country to preserve it from the imminent carnage of war.
  • Legacy of Light, by Karen Zacharias, was described by one critic as “an intellectual joyride” examining two women, an 18th century scientist and a 21st century astrophysicist, balancing their yearning for professional fulfillment and the complications of impending motherhood. The work premiered May 8 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
  • Perfect Mendacity, by Jason Wells, is an unsettling look at a corporate cog trying to outwit a lie detector test that will expose him as a leak to the news media about a company scandal. The dark story is populated by people who have jettisoned integrity for expedience, choices that raise questions about the war on terror, bigotry and greed. It premiered May 14 at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida.
  • Time Stands Still, by Donald Margulies, premiered at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles on Feb. 11. The drama portrays married journalists trying to recover from the emotional and physical damage wreaked during their coverage of the war-torn Middle East. They must weigh their yearning to fulfill a socially important role against the seemingly irreconcilable quest for a normal life back home.
  • Victoria Musica, also by Michele Lowe, marks the first time a playwright has been independently nominated for two plays in one season, let alone become a finalist for both. First produced Sept. 26 by the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, it tells of an arts critic obsessed to find the truth behind the possibility that a world-renowned cellist had faked her extraordinary recordings before her death. The result is an examination of the true nature of artistry and the pressures accompanying fame.

The Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award honors new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City, where there are many other awards. No play is eligible if it has gone on to a New York production within the award year.

These six finalists were selected from plays nominated by ATCA members, then evaluated by a committee of 13 theater critics, led by chairman Wm. F. Hirschman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Other committee members are Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Bruce Burgun, Bloomington Herald Times and Back Stage; Michael Elkin, Jewish Exponent (Pa.); Jay Handelman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; Pam Harbaugh, Florida Today (Melbourne, FL); Leonard Jacobs, (New York Press, Back Stage, and Editor, The Clyde Fitch Report); Elizabeth Keill, Independent Press (Morristown, N.J.); Elizabeth Maupin, Orlando Sentinel; Wendy Parker, The Village Mill (Midlothian, Va.); Michael Sander, Back Stage (Minn.); Herb Simpson, www.totaltheater.com (Rochester, N.Y.) and Tim Treanor, DC Theater Scene (Washington, D.C.)

“Once again, America’s regional theaters from Sarasota to Seattle proved themselves as important a source for vibrant and important new work as the five boroughs of New York City,” said Hirschman. “All the nominated plays reflected an encouraging range of well-known names and newcomers, young voices and mature talents, the mainstream drama and the surreal. Themes of integrity and responsibility recurred in several plays, which illustrated that issues facing humanity one, two, even three centuries ago, still echo for the 21st Century with a deafening resonance.”

The awards began in 1977, when ATCA started citing each year one new play produced outside New York City. In 1985, the annual citations expanded to three, and from 1986 one of those three was given $1,000, with various newspapers providing a subsidy. In 2000, the award was renamed to recognize the Steinberg Foundation’s generous annual gift, which was raised to $40,000 in 2006.

Since the 1977 inception of ATCA’s New Play Award, honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Jane Martin, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Lynn Nottage, Horton Foote, Moises Kaufman and Craig Lucas. Last year’s honoree was E. M. Lewis for Song of Extinction.

Each year’s three winning plays are chronicled in The Best Plays Theater Yearbook, edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, alongside the 10 best plays produced that year in New York City. For a complete list of the 83 plays cited from 1977 through 2009, go to http://www.americantheatrecritics.org, under Awards.

The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust was created in 1986 by Harold Steinberg on behalf of himself and his late wife. Pursuing its primary mission to support the American theater, it has provided grants totaling many millions of dollars to support new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theater.

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 who work for print, broadcast and online media, ATCA is a national section of the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization.

ATCA also presents the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, honoring emerging playwrights, and the Francesca Primus Prize, funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation to honor outstanding contributions to the American theater by female artists who have not yet achieved national prominence. Annually it makes a recommendation 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.

3 responses to “Theater critics announces finalists for national new-play award

  1. We were in Ashland the wrong day to see “Equivocation” but heard from friends that it was really good. We wanted to see it but just couldn’t stay until it turned up in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s rep.

  2. Is there a comparative group for online theater critics to The Online Film Critics Society?

  3. Online theater critics may join ATCA. I’m not sure what the specific rules are (you have to be able to prove you review regularly, so print critics have to submit clips), but the information would be at americantheatrecritics.org.