The winner and two additional citations will be presented April 4 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
The top award includes a commemorative plaque and a cash prize of $25,000 — currently the largest national new play award — with $7,500 for each citation.
The finalists are:
Becky's New Car by Steven Dietz, "a warmly humorous and nimble romantic farce … a genial consideration of loves lost and found, midlife and middle-class ennui and American car lust," according to the Seattle Times. It was produced in October 2008 by ACT Theatre in Seattle.
Great Falls by Lee Blessing, "a wry drama about a stepfather and his disaffected stepdaughter trying to make connections on a road trip across the American West." It was produced in February 2008 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Blessing won the award in 2006 for A Body of Water and 1987 for A Walk in the Woods. Lydia by Octavio Solis, "a searing depiction of a dysfunctional Mexican-American family in the 1970s dealing with issues of immigration, assimilation and mental illness." It premiered at the Denver Center Theatre Company in January 2008.
Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat by Yussef El Guindi, which "depicts Muslim-Americans struggling among themselves how to portray their cultural identity and how deeply to assimilate in the post-9/11 world." It was produced in March 2008 by Silk Road Theatre Project in Chicago.
Song of Extinction by E.M. Lewis, which "starts as a realistic examination of ecology, genocide, isolation, music, family relationships and a host of other issues but morphs into a dreamscape which weaves the disparate strands into a cohesive pattern of inter-connectedness." It premiered in November 2008 at Moving Arts in Hollywood. Lewis won ATCA's Francesca Primus Award last year.
Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, "a comic drama portraying the resurrection of a former '60s radical who is hiding from disappointments and tragedies by running a tiny Chicago doughnut shop. His isolation is challenged by a young black man seeking a job and running from some secrets of his own." It premiered in June at Steppenwolf Theater.
Consideration for the Steinberg/ATCA awards is limited to new plays not yet produced in New York City by the end of the 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); Leonard Jacobs, New York Press, Back Stage and The Clyde Fitch Report; Chad Jones, Oakland (CA) Tribune; Elizabeth Keill, Independent Press (Morristown, NJ); Elizabeth Maupin, Orlando Sentinel; Wendy Parker, The Village Mill (Midlothian, VA); Michael Sander, Back Stage (MN); and Herb Simpson, Totaltheater.com (Rochester, NY).
These awards began in 1977, when ATCA started to cite 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 the ATCA New Play Award of $1,000, with various newspapers providing financial subsidy. In 2000, the award was renamed to recognize the Steinberg Foundation’s generous annual gift of $15,000, raised in 2006 to $40,000.
Honorees since 1977 have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Jane Martin, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Lynn Nottage, Horton Foote and Craig Lucas. Last year's winner was Moises Kaufman for 33 Variations, which is now on Broadway.
Each year's honorees are chronicled in "The Best Plays Theater Yearbook," edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, alongside the ten best plays produced that year in New York City. For a complete list of the 80 plays cited from 1977 through 2008, go to 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 theatre, it has provided millions of dollars to support new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theatre.
ATCA was founded in 1974 and works to raise critical standards and public awareness of critics' functions and responsibilities and to recognize excellence in the American theatre.
ATCA also presents the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, honoring emerging playwrights, and the $10,000 Francesca Primus Prize, funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, honoring outstanding contributions to the American theater by a female artist who has 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 its members vote on inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.
For more information on ATCA, visit www.americantheatrecritics.org.