Six playwrights are vying for a national theater award which a group of critics presents annually to the best plays that premiere professionally outside of New York.
The top award carries a $25,000 prize and two citations carry a value of $7,500 each. The presentation will take place on May 7 at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif as part of the annual Pacific Playwrights Festival.
At $40,000, the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) New Play Award is the largest national new play award program of its kind.
In 1977, ATCA started honoring new plays produced at regional theaters to call attention to works produced outside New York. Since 2000, the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust has funded the award.
ATCA members nominate plays for consideration. New play committee members, comprised of theater critics from around the country, then read the works and select the winners.
“Regional theaters around the country generate some of the most exciting new work in the American theater landscape,” said ATCA New Play Committee co-chair Cameron Kelsall, chief theater critic for the Broad Street Review in Philadelphia. He added: “We are pleased to recognize these fine artists and their brilliant plays.”
“This year we saw more play submissions, reflecting the return of live theater in communities across the country – a happy development for playwrights, theaters, and audiences,” said ATCA New Play Committee co-chair Misha Berson. She is a Seattle author and freelance drama critic.
The committee selected the six finalists from eligible scripts that ATCA members from around the country recommended.
The 2023 finalists, listed alphabetically by title, are:
- Born With Teeth by Liz Duffy Adams. This piece is an exuberant fantasia on an imaginary collaboration between playwrights William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). Members of the ATCA judging panel hailed the play as “bright, dangerous, with crackling dialogue and great characters.” Alley Theatre in Houston gave the play its world premiere production.
- Good Night, Oscar by Doug Wright. This piece explores addiction and mental illness through the perspective of mid-20th century pianist, actor, and television personality Oscar Levant (1906-1972). A juror commented that the play explores how “we need our court jesters to reveal some essential truths…and suggests how Levant set the table for such transgressive and revelatory comedians as George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and others.” Goodman Theatre in Chicago gave the play its world premiere production.
- the ripple, the wave that carried me home by Christina Anderson. The piece explores the legacy of political activism and the enduring bonds of family. Judges praised the piece as “compelling,” “thoughtful,” and “lyrical.” Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Chicago’s Goodman Theatre presented the world premiere.
- Sally & Tom by Suzan-Lori Parks. The writers explore the complicated and often misinterpreted historical narrative of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings through the lens of a play-within-a-play. One judge opined that “this play is full of creative riches.” The piece premiered at Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.
- Spay by Madison Fiedler. This piece takes place in contemporary West Virginia. It refracts the opioid epidemic through the lens of a family touched by tragedy and trying imperfectly to move forward. “This play lives in the uncomfortable realities of life,” one judge commented. Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in Chicago presented the world premiere.
- Swing State by Rebecca Gilman. This Wisconsin-set work examines the lives and concerns of rural individuals who often go unreported. A judge praised the piece as “beautiful and nuanced, not overwrought in spite of charged emotions, with plenty to say in a social and political way, without ever straying from the very human.” The Goodman Theatre in Chicago presented the world premiere.
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