Theater critics announce six finalists for $25,000 new-play prize

Six U.S. playwrights have been named as finalists in the 2010 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association ATCA) New Play Award, a national competition run by ATCA, the professional organization of U.S. theater critics.

The six finalists are up for $40,000 in awards, including one $25,000 first-place award and two $7,500 citations. The awards go to the writers of the scripts judged to have been the best produced in a regional theater outside New York the previous year.

(The theory is that New York theater already has plenty of prizes, so ATCA recognizes theater outside New York.)

At $40,000, Steinberg/ATCA is the largest national new-play award of its kind.

(Full disclosure: I’m among the 13 critics on the awards committee and voted on this competition.)

The finalists are:

  • Compulsion, by Rinne Groff, is a painfully close-up look at the destructive nature of obsession. Loosely based on the life of Meyer Levin, the fictional tale tracks an American writer’s all-consuming crusade to have The Diary of Anne Frank printed in the United States and then to have his own theatrical script produced, a script he believes is being rejected because it focuses on Frank’s religion. The co-production premiered Feb. 4, 2010 at Yale Repertory Theatre and then Sept. 16 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
  • Detroit, by Lisa D’Amour, bowed Sept. 9 at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. It depicts a classic suburban family who welcome a quirky couple who have moved into the long-empty house next door. During a series of backyard barbeques, the couples learn each other’s secrets in a serio-comic exposure of middle-class life.
  • The Good Counselor, by Kathryn Grant, questions the definition of a good mother. It centers on an African-American lawyer defending a young white racist charged with murdering her three-week old baby. His own investigation forces him to re-examine his own mother’s choice to favor his development and to abandon his younger brother. The work premiered July 15 at Premiere Stages, based at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.
  • The History of Invulnerability, by David Bar Katz, uses the life of Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, to explore the roots of art and how it relates to the real world. It contends that the nebbishy Siegel evolved Superman as a fantasy to counteract his guilt and impotence over the horror of the Holocaust half a world away. It premiered April 3 at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
  • Nine Circles, by Bill Cain, follows the harrowing descent into a very recognizable hell by a young American soldier accused of an atrocity in Iraq. His journey through the bureaucratic and social maze mirrors Dante’s vision of an arduous odyssey to find redemptive self-knowledge. The play premiered Oct. 14 at Marin Theatre Company.
  • Splinters, by Emily Schwend, was first produced June 29 as part of the Cultural Development Corporation’s Source Festival in Washington, D.C. The drama portrays a teenager and her parents struggling in disparate dysfunctional ways to cope with the disappearance of a young daughter.

Here’s the official ATCA press release on the finalists. The winners will be announced April 2 in Louisville, Ky., during the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

U.S. theater critics name six finalists for new-play award

The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has selected six finalists for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award recognizing playwrights for the best scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2010.

ATCA began in 1977 to honor new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City, where there are many awards. No play is eligible if it has gone on to a New York production within the award year. Since 2000, the award has been generously funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.

These six finalists were selected from 27 eligible scripts submitted by ATCA members. They were evaluated  by a committee of 13 theater critics, led by chairman Wm. F. Hirschman of the South Florida Theater Review. 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, Fla.); Leonard Jacobs, The Clyde Fitch Report; Elizabeth Keill, Independent Press (Morristown, N.J.); Elizabeth Maupin, Elizabeth Maupin on Theater (Orlando, Fla.); Wendy Parker, The Village Mill (Midlothian, Va.); David Sheward, Back Stage (New York); Herb Simpson, totaltheater.com and capitalcriticscircle.com, and Tim Treanor, DC Theater Scene (Washington, D.C.)

“Despite vanishing government support and faltering donations, America’s regional theaters have persevered and prevailed as this country’s preeminent crucible for vibrant and important new works,” said Hirschman. “The recommended plays encompass a dizzyingly wide range of styles and themes, produced by a cadre of experienced and novice playwrights who are inarguable proof that theater remains a vital and relevant art form in the 21st century.”

Since the inception of ATCA’s New Play Award, honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Lynn Nottage, Moises Kaufman and Craig Lucas. Last year’s honoree was Bill Cain for Equivocation. For a full list of 34 years of winners and runners-up, go to www.americantheatrecritics.org and click on Steinberg-ATCA 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 millions of dollars for 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, with several hundred members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and websites, ATCA is part of the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

ATCA also presents the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, honoring emerging playwrights, and the Francesca Primus Prize, funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, honoring 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.

For more information on the Steinberg/ATCA Award, contact Wm. F. Hirschman, chair of the ATCA New Play Committee, at muckrayk@aol.com or 954-478-1123, or Christopher Rawson, chair of ATCA’s Executive Committee, at cchr@pitt.edu or 412-216-1944.

One response to “Theater critics announce six finalists for $25,000 new-play prize

  1. Rob Anderson

    I love Rinne Groff. RUBY SUNRISE is one of my favorite plays. Congrats to them all!