Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award Finalists Include Sharr White, Yussef El Guindi, Quiara Alegria Hudes and More
By Kenneth Jones
The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) announced 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 2011.
The top award of $25,000 and two citations of $7,500 each, plus commemorative plaques, will be presented March 31 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. At $40,000, Steinberg/ATCA is the largest national new play award of its kind.
The finalists (as characterized by ATCA) are:
Annapurna, by Sharr White, "is a visceral and profound meditation on loss and the longevity of love. It reunites a mortally ill cantankerous poet who has moved to the Colorado mountains and the ex-wife he has not seen in 20 years who wants a reckoning if not a reconciliation." The play premiered in November at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco.
Edith Can Shoot Things And Hit Them, by A. Rey Pamatmat, bowed last spring at the Humana Festival. "This moving, bittersweet play portrays an especially untraditional family made up of three young misfits: a brilliant 16-year-old and his precocious 12-year-old sister abandoned by their widowed father to raise themselves, and the brother's lover who runs from a family unaccepting of his nascent homosexuality. Their fanciful bonding, resilience and realization of their limitations results in an uplifting and meaningful comic drama infused with empathy and wry humor."
On the Spectrum, by Ken LaZebnik, "depicts a young man with Asperger's Syndrome passing as 'typical' after years of mainstreaming and therapy. He connects with a woman who proudly champions her autism as a difference, not a disorder. This love story reveals the contradictions between finding success as oneself and finding success on the world's terms, and the conflict between the desire for acceptance and the desire for achievement. Among the choices: live in a fantastic world of the mind or join the more mundane society that typecasts you as your illness." The work premiered in November at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.
Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, by Yussef El Guindi, "is a gentle romantic comedy wrapped around a serious examination of issues facing today's new immigrants, dilemmas that resonate for every generation's newcomers. An Egyptian immigrant who drives a cab strikes up a romance with a quirky American-born waitress, but the clash of cultures is only the hook El Guindi uses to explore the diversity of opinions even within one ethnic group as they struggle with assimilation and a newly-minted belief in the promise of the American Dream." It premiered in June at ACT in Seattle.
A Twist of Water, by Caitlin Montanye Parrish, "is a sensitive drama of domestic relationships seamlessly fused with an examination of social issues. A single white father tries to come to terms with his black, adopted teenage daughter after the death of his longtime husband, the man whom the daughter considers her real Dad. When the girl seeks out her birth mother, the father's relationship with her is pressed to the breaking point. This play speaks about forgiveness, about knowing our parents as human beings, about failing our children in spite of our every effort, about loss and love and the triumph of courage that allows us to go on with our lives." The play premiered in February at the Route 66 Theatre in Chicago.
Water By the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes, was first produced in October by Hartford Stage. "A soldier returns from the Iraqi war and struggles to put aside the demons that haunt him. His mother, a recovering heroin addict, battles her own demons with other recovering addicts in an Internet chat room. The boundaries of love, family and community are stretched across time, generations and cyberspace as birth families splinter and online families collide."
These six finalists were selected from 27 eligible scripts submitted by ATCA members. They were evaluated by a committee of 12 theatre critics, led by chairman Wm. F. Hirschman of FloridaTheaterOnStage.com. Other committee members are Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Bruce Burgun, Bloomington Herald Times and Back Stage (Indiana); Michael Elkin, Jewish Exponent (Pennsylvania); Pam Harbaugh, Florida Today (Melbourne); Elizabeth Keill, Independent Press (Morristown, NJ); Jerry Kraft, aislesay.com (Port Angeles, WA); Julius Novick, freelancer (New York City); Wendy Parker, The Village Mill (Midlothian, VA); David Sheward, Back Stage (New York); Herb Simpson, totaltheater.com and capitalcriticscircle.com (Geneseo, NY) and Tim Treanor, DC Theater Scene (Washington, DC).
ATCA began in 1977 to honor new plays produced at regional theatres 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 funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.
For a full list of 35 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 theatre, 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 theatre.
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 theatre critics, with several hundred members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and websites, ATCA is affiliated with 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 (including previous winners El Guindi and LaZebnik), which will be presented March 31 as well. It also administers the $10,000 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, ATCA 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.
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