While the “Red Carpet,” glorious clothes and this year’s best movies grab much of the attention, it’s also time for highly promising new plays to receive their moment in the spotlight.
With that said, a committee comprising critics has selected six finalists for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award.
One of the plays will receive the prestigious recognition this year. The honor recognizes the best scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2017.
Here are the finalists:
The Book of Will, by Laura Gunderson.
Cry It Out, by Molly Smith Metzler.
Linda Vista and The Minutes, both by Tracy Letts.
Objects in the Mirror, by Charles Smith
The Wolf at the End of the Block, by Ike Holter.
The Book of Will is about the efforts of Shakespeare’s contemporaries to preserve the Bard’s words after his death. This play “fires on all cylinders,” according to one panelist.
Another opined that “It wrestles with big questions. They include 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.”
The Book of Will is “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.”
Gunderson’s play had its world premiere at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
Cry it Out centers on the bonds and barriers between two new mothers across a backyard and across class differences. According to panel members, it’s “heartbreakingly original in wrestling with issues of female friendship and class and privilege. Meanwhile, it’s “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 of New American Plays.
Linda Vista focuses on “a man child who is lonely and wants to be loved. At the same time, the individual remains “too immature to do the work involved in making that happen.” One panelist lauded the play and didn’t mince words. The work “contains some of the “smartest, funniest dialogue of any play this year.” It also “features female roles exceptionally fresh and well crafted.”
Another panelist described watching the play as akin to “getting smacked with a metal ruler while someone’s telling jokes.” Linda Vista premiered at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
The Minutes reads like “this is Grover’s Corners and Winesburg, Ohio through the eyes of Shirley Jackson,” a panelist offered. The play is “a very weird roller coaster ride” through an absurd small town council meeting.” The piece 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.
Objects in the Mirror “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 director.”
“I was also moved,” said a 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 of the Mirror premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.
The Wolf at the End of the Block 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.” The play focuses on a beating outside of a Chicago bar.
This piece is “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.” Teatro Vista presented the play, which premiered at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater.
Panelists selected the six finalists from eligible scripts recommended by ATCA members from around the country. Critic Lou Harry led the committee. He’s written for theatrecriticism.com, The Sondheim Review and many more publications.
“Together, these six plays speak well of the American theatre today,” Harry said. “Individually, they speak to the excitement and originality of some of our finest playwrights.”
Since its inception, ATCA’s New Play Award honorees have included Moises 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.
Visit http://americantheatrecritics.org/steinberg-atca-award/steinbergatca-roster-of-past-honorees.html for the full list of winners and finalists.
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 honoring new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City in 1977. Since 2000, the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust has funded the award. The late Harold Steinberg, a prominent real estate developer, founded the trust. He established it in 1986 in New York City. Steinberg was president of the Downing Management Corporation, an active developer in Manhattan, NY, and also built the first hotel in Manhattan in 1957 called the Skyline Motor Inn.
Plays that have been produced in the Big Apple, where there are many awards, are not eligible for consideration.
ATCA was founded in 1974. It works to raise public awareness of the role of theatre critics. In addition, the organization works to heighten critical standards within the profession.
The organization is the only national association of professional theater critics. It comprises more than 200 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.
For more information on the organization, visit americantheatrecritics.org.