“Because of a lack of enthusiasm for this year’s selection,” the Rosenthals said in a statement, “we have chosen to discontinue the prize... While this is the first time we have chosen not to award the prize once [producing artistic director Ed Stern] has selected a play, we would prefer to avoid an awkward situation of this sort in the future.”
The play on which Stern and the Rosenthals split is Hiding Behind Comets by Brian Dykstra, a drama about two very different twins, which is described as containing “sexual situations, adult language and graphic violence.”
Despite the Rosenthal’s decision, Stern—who alone has chosen the many recipients of the Rosenthal prize—has decided to go ahead and produce the play as part of the Playhouse’s 2003-04 season. Dates are March 20 to April 18, 2004.
“Of course, we are disappointed in the decision of Lois and Richard Rosenthal,” said Stern in a statement. “Over the past fifteen years, the prize has created a remarkable tradition that truly has elevated the level of new plays in this region.”
Asked if the volatile content of Comets caused the Rosenthals to balk, Stern was skeptical. “The irony is a few years ago we did The Dead Eye Boy,” he said. “And the violence and sexuality in that is as striking as in Comets.” Other plays beside The Dead Eye Boy (which went on to an Off-Broadway production) that have benefitted from the Rosenthals’ largesse include Jeffrey Hatcher’s Scotland Road, Coyote on a Fence by Bruce Graham and Keith Glover’s In Walks Ed. The Rosenthal New Play Prize was established in 1987 by the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Foundation to encourage superior new plays for the American stage. The prize allows for the first fully staged production of the work within the Playhouse’s regular subscription season, and provides for the playwright’s residency throughout an extended rehearsal process. During rehearsals, the script is developed further in collaboration with the director and cast.
Stern said the Rosenthals plan to continue their support of the Playhouse: “I suspect after 15 years, they were looking for new initiatives.”