The American Theatre Critics Association selected Regina Taylor's Oo-Bla-Dee to receive the 2000 American Theatre Critics/Steinberg New Play Award.
The presentation was made April 1 in a ceremony at the Actors Theatre of Louisville's Pamela Brown Auditorium during the 24th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays.
Taylor received a commemorative plaque and a check for $15,000 for Oo-Bla-Dee, which focuses on the little known saga of black female bebop musicians during World War II. Taylor's play exposes the plight of a saxophone player who, after achieving too-brief fame, must choose between love and art. Chicago's Goodman Theatre staged the play in 1999.
In his review of Oo-Bla-Dee, the Chicago Tribune's Richard Christiansen (who also nominated the play) wrote: "It free-ranges all over the Goodman Theatre stage, mixing realism and surrealism, naturalism and expressionism, comic and tragic, dramatic and melodramatic, classical and bebop in a giddy ride of theatricalism." He found the play "possessed of a unique and eloquent voice" and lauded Taylor for her "vibrant imagination and extraordinary gift for language."
Two additional plays were recognized with commemorative citations and $5,000 cash awards. Jeffrey Hatcher's Compleat Female Stage Beauty is a complex portrait of Edward Kynaston, one of the last actors to play female roles before England's Charles II made it legal for women to perform on stage. Produced by Pittsburgh's City Theatre, the play depicts Kynaston's bittersweet attempt to change his act. Allan Knee's Syncopation, co-produced by the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT, and by the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ, was called an unpretentious love story told mostly through dance. The tale chronicles a complex and long-term relationship between two would-be hoofers. *
In addition to the cash prizes, these three plays will be excerpted in the 1999-2000 edition of the esteemed theatre yearbook, "Best Plays." Finalists and honorees are selected by a committee of nine theatre critics from around the United States who evaluate scripts recommended by ATCA members. Plays must have premiered outside New York City in the previous calendar year.
Other finalists in this year's deliberations included The Adventures of Herculina by Kira Obolensky (Next Theatre in Evanston, IL.); Wonderland by Chay Yew (La Jolla Playhouse in California); and another play by Hatcher, Sockdology (Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, AL.).
Previous honorees include August Wilson's Fences, The Piano Lesson and Two Trains Running, Lanford Wilson's Book of Days (last year's top honoree), Jane Martin's Jack and Jill and Keely and Du, Romulus Linney's Heathen Valley, Michael Cristopher's Amazing Grace and Lee Blessing's A Walk in the Woods.
The awards are supported by an annual grant of $25,000 from the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. Created in 1986 by Harold Steinberg on behalf of himself and his late wife, the primary mission of the Steinberg Charitable Trust is to support the American theatre. Since its inception, the Trust has provided numerous grants -- totaling many millions of dollars - to theaters throughout the United States to support new productions of American plays and educational programs for children and others who may not ordinarily have the opportunity to experience live theatre.
The American Theatre Critics Association works to raise critical standards and public awareness of critics' functions and responsibilities. The only national association of professional theatre critics, ATCA has several hundred members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations across the United States. It is a national section of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC), a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.
-- By Kenneth Jones