After lengthy deliberation, the American Theatre Critics Association 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 2017.
The top award of $25,000 and two citations of $7,500 each, plus commemorative plaques, will be presented at the Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays on April 7. With $40,000 awarded each year, Steinberg/ATCA is the largest national new play award program of its kind.
ATCA began to honor new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City (where there are many awards) in 1977. Since 2000, the award has been generously funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. Plays that have been produced in New York City within the award year are not eligible for consideration.
This year’s finalists are:
- The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson
- Cry It Out by Molly Smith Metzler
- Linda Vista by Tracy Letts
- The Minutes by Tracy Letts
- Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith
- The Wolf at the End of the Block by Ike Holter
Here are some comments about the finalists from the adjudicators:
The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson, about the efforts of Shakespeare’s contemporaries to preserve his words after his death, “fires on all cylinders” according to one panelist. Said another, it “wrestles with big questions: Why we create and how we deal with death? What constitutes a legacy? And how a surpassing love for something bigger can make every sacrifice worth it.” It’s “all the more impressive given that we know how the story will end.” “And it’s funny — genuinely funny — in a way that feels contemporary and yet not cynical.” The Book of Will had its world premiere at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
Cry It Out by Molly Smith Metzler focuses on the bonds and barriers between two new mothers across a backyard and across class differences. According to panel members, it is “heartbreakingly original in wrestling with issues of female friendship and class and privilege while still being a story about two people one quickly feels strongly about.” “Their challenges come across as very real and accessible without being trivialized.” Cry It Out premiered at the Humana Festival.
Linda Vista by Tracy Letts focuses on “a man-child who is lonely and wants to be loved — while remaining too immature to do the work involved in making that happen.” With, according to a panelist, some of the “smartest, funniest dialogue of any play this year, it also features female roles exceptionally fresh and well crafted.” “Letts runs it out of control and then brings it back,” said another. It features, “smart observations on marriage, fatherhood, and aging” and, noted yet another. “It’s like getting smacked with a metal ruler while someone’s telling jokes.” Linda Vista premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.
The Minutes also by Tracy Letts, reads like “this is Grover’s Corners and Winesburg, Ohio through the eyes of Shirley Jackson.” It’s “a very weird roller coaster ride” through an absurd town council meeting that leads to “a magnificent tribal reveal soaked in the saddest truth about humanity.” “I could see where this would be an actor’s and director’s dream with a WOW finish.” The Minutes also premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith “compellingly takes us into the mindset of the masses of refugees fleeing wars and other violence and their struggle against great odds to survive and escape.” It’s about both “the price of immigration, and the importance of identity, with a second act that feeds on the first act in clever ways but takes us in a new direction.” “I was also moved,” said one panelist, “by the identity crisis at the heart of the play—the hunger to reclaim a self and name that no longer belong to you.” It conveys “a great deal about how worlds apart people can be, how different their ideas of how to help.” Objects in the Mirror premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.
The Wolf at the End of the Block by Ike Holter is, according to one panelist, “a play I can’t get out of my head, from one of the most exciting emerging voices in American theater.” It “melds gorgeous, often comedic dialogue into a very dark reality” in “a play that matters.” Centered on a beating outside of a Chicago bar, it’s “honest about how flawed the would-be heroes of the piece are — refreshing, given the amount of paint-by-numbers agitprop out there right now.” Presented by Teatro Vista, The Wolf at the End of the Block premiered at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater.
These six finalists were selected from eligible scripts recommended by ATCA members from around the country. They were evaluated by a committee of theater critics, led by Lou Harry, who has written for theatrecriticism.com, The Sondheim Review, and many more publications.
“Once again, the panel has bowled me over with its rigorous and passionate debate,” said Harry, “and once again playwrights and theaters from around the country have supplied us with plays worthy of those fierce discussions. Together, these six plays speak well of the American theatre today. Individually, they speak to the excitement and originality of some of our finest playwrights.”
Other committee members are:
- Misha Berson, Seattle Times (Seattle, WA)
- Bruce Burgun, The New Orleans Advocate (New Orleans, LA.)
- Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times (Madison, WI)
- Amanda Finn, Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI)
- Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, (Milwaukee, WI)
- Pam Harbaugh, floridatheatreonstage.com (Indialantic, FL)
- Erin Keane, Salon (Louisville, KY)
- Mark Lowry, theaterjones.com, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Dallas, TX)
- Jonathan Mandell, newyorktheater.me (New York, NY)
- Julius Novick, freelance (New York City, NY)
- Marjorie Oberlander, freelance (New York City, NY)
- Kathryn Osenlund, freelance (Philadelphia, PA)
- Wendy Parker, freelance (Midlothian, VA)
- Wendy Rosenfield, broadstreetreview.com (Philadelphia, PA)
- David Sheward, artsinny.com, theaterlife.com (Jackson Heights, NY)
- Martha Wade Steketee, freelance (New York, NY)
- Perry Tannenbaum, Creative Loafing, (Charlotte, NC)
- Bob Verini, Variety (Boston, MA)
Since its inception, ATCA’s New Play Award honorees have included Moisés Kaufman, Adrienne Kennedy, Craig Lucas, Donald Margulies, Arthur Miller, Marsha Norman, Robert Schenkkan, August Wilson, Lanford Wilson, and Mac Wellman. Last year’s honoree was Man in the Ring by Michael Cristofer. Here is the full list of winners and finalists.
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.
The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) was founded in 1974 and works to public awareness of the role of theatre critics and to raise critical standards within the profession. It is the only national association of professional theater critics, with over two hundred members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, and websites. ATCA is a section of the International Association of Theatre Critics/Association internationale des critiques de théâtre (AICT-IATC), a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.
Other playwriting awards presented by ATCA include:
- The M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, honoring emerging playwrights.
- The Francesca Primus Prize, bestowing an annual $10,000 award funded by the
- Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, to honor outstanding contributions to the American theatre by female artists who have not yet achieved national prominence.
- ATCA also makes an annual recommendation to the American Theatre Wing and
- Broadway League for their Regional Theatre Tony Award and votes on the yearly inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.