New Play Award Finalists Announced

One of my favorite interviews for TheatrePlayByPlay last year was my conversation with Robert Schenkkan at the Humana Festival just a few hours before he won the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award for All the Way (now just about to open on Broadway starring Bryan Cranston).

One of the most important playwrighting prizes in the country, in addition to Schenkkan, past winners and nominees have included numerous now well-known and lauded playwrights (including Sharr White, A. Rey Pamatmat, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Donald Margulies, Tracy Letts, Moises Kaufman, Bill Cain, August Wilson, and Lee Blessing).

The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has just announced the six finalists for the 2014 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA Award, which recognizes the best scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City in 2013. From the ATCA release, here are brief descriptions of the six plays, alphabetically by playwright:

Fear Up Harsh, by Christopher Demos-Brown – The secret backstory behind the awarding of a Congressional Medal of Honor to a wounded Marine emerges in this mercilessly penetrating interrogation about how our need for heroes — a need even among the heroes themselves – can trump the very values of truth, honor and loyalty that they fought to preserve. The play received its world premiere at Zoetic Stage in Miami in November.

Mary Jean Boudreau in  FEAR UP HARSH at Zoetic Stage  photo by Justin Namon

Mary Jean Boudreau in
FEAR UP HARSH at Zoetic Stage
photo by Justin Namon

I and You, by Lauren Gunderson – Caroline, a cranky high school student in desperate need of a liver transplant, is enticed by classmate Anthony, a level-headed basketball star with a taste for English lit, into a school project deconstructing Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. As their quirky relationship evolves in fits and starts, they explore the meaning of life and death without a shred of condescension or pretentiousness. Delicate, smart and funny with sharp insights, the play grows quietly toward a surprising and overwhelmingly moving conclusion. It premiered in October at Marin Theatre Company as part of the National New Play Network’s rolling world premiere program.

Jessica Lynn Carroll and Devion McArthur in I AND YOU at Marin Theatre Company photo by Ed Smith

Jessica Lynn Carroll and Devion McArthur
in I AND YOU at Marin Theatre Company
photo by Ed Smith

Smokefall, by Noah Haidle  — This delightfully offbeat play embraces inventive theatricality and a poetic lyricism to depict three generations of a Midwestern family as they move through time. It combines a compassionate examination of familial unhappiness and the fragility of life with zany humor, such as twin fetuses arguing in their mother’s womb. The work bowed last spring as a co-production of South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif., and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

smokefall

Catherine Combs in SMOKEFALL
at the Goodman Theatre

H20, by Jane Martin – Fast and smart and fresh in its intersection of transitory showbiz and enduring faith, this drama depicts a deeply troubled flavor-of-the-month movie idol who is slated to play Hamlet on stage in New York. He woos a talented unknown actress to be his Ophelia after she foils his suicide attempt. Her profound faith in Christianity collides with his dark view of the world as she tries to save his production, his life and his soul in a play that is both terribly funny and deeply moving at almost the same moment. Directed by Jon Jory, the play premiered at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia in July.

Diane Mair and Alex Podulke in H20 photo by Seth Freeman

Diane Mair and Alex Podulke in H20
photo by Seth Freeman

Stupid Fucking Bird, by Aaron Posner – Unlike almost anything else seen this season, this script was praised as “funny, wonderful, original, smart with a capital S, consistently imaginative but thoroughly grounded.” On the surface, it’s simply a modern retelling of Chekhov’s The Seagull that catches all the humor and wistfulness of the original and the inner reality of a great play. But Posner has transmuted the story, “wrapping new words and ideas around old concepts,” using form-bending theatricality to create a fresh sui generis work of art. The play premiered last year at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington D.C.

Kimberly Gilbert and Cody Nickell in STUPID FUCKING BIRD at Woolly Mammoth Theatre (Photo: Stan Barouh)

Kimberly Gilbert and Cody Nickell in
STUPID FUCKING BIRD at Woolly Mammoth Theatre
(Photo: Stan Barouh)

Seven Spots on the Sun, by Martin Zimmerman — This meld of magical realism and political issues is an affecting tale that examines whether forgiveness is truly possible, set against the ravages of civil war, lust, plague and a consuming need for vengeance. A widowed doctor in a small village and a newly-married soldier charged with subduing dissent take converging journeys towards redemption in this harrowing play that was unveiled at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in October.

SEVEN SPOTS ON THE SUN at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park photo by Sandy Underwood

SEVEN SPOTS ON THE SUN
at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park
photo by Sandy Underwood

In discussing the finalist plays, William F. Hirshman, Chairmain of the ATCA selection committee said “Refuting concerns about theater as a relevant and popularly embraced art form, the stunning array and high quality of scripts we read confirm the enduring commitment of regional theaters and a dazzling diversity of playwrights to be the primary standard-bearers for new works.”
The ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award top prize is $25,000; two runners-up will receive citations of $7,500 each, plus commemorative plaques.  The awards will be presented on Saturday, April 5 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
Congratulations to the nominated playwrights!  Based on personal experience, I recommend that you well note the names of these playwrights and these plays and grab any chance you get to see any of these plays and their future work.

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