Two plays with links to Washington theater – a family drama which was seen in 2010’s Source Festival and a tragicomedy about Superman which will run during Theater J’s 2011-2012 season – are among the six finalists for the prestigious Steinberg New Play Award, the American Theater Critics Association announced today. The Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award goes to playwrights who have written the year’s best scripts produced professionally outside of New York City.
Splinters, Emily Schwend’s story about a family shattered by the disappearance of their younger daughter, survived, along with five other plays, a whittling-down process which began with twenty-seven nominated plays. DC Theatre Scene said of Splinters that it “offers the discerning audience member a dozen pleasures, chief among them being Schwend’s astonishingly deft hand with dialogue. There is not a single line in two hours and ten minutes which sounds or feels inauthentic, and the characters are full, deep and complex.” Of the six Steinberg nominees, Splinters is the only one also nominated for the Osborne Award, given annually for the best new play by an emerging playwright. However, the play’s high Steinberg ranking does not assure it of the Osborne Award, as voting for that award is separate.
The other Steinberg finalist with a Washington connection is David Bar Katz’s The History of Invulnerability, which uses the life of Superman creator Jerry Siegel to represent the Man of Steel as a Jewish superhero born of the necessity to confront anti-Semitism and the horrors of the holocaust. When reached, Theater J Artistic Director Ari Roth confirmed that the company will produce the play, opening June, 2012.
The remaining finalists include Bill Cain’s 9 Circles, which follows the harrowing descent into a very recognizable hell by a young American soldier accused of an atrocity in Iraq. His journey through the bureaucratic and social maze mirrors Dante’s vision of an arduous odyssey to find redemptive self-knowledge. Cain’s Equivocation, which imagines William Shakespeare being commissioned by the Crown to write an account of the Gunpowder Plot, won the Steinberg Award last year, and will be produced by Arena Stage and run from November 18 to December 31, 2011.
Also still in consideration are Compulsion, a Rinnie Groff piece about a man obsessed with having his theatrical version of The Diary of Anne Frank produced; Detroit, about what happens to a working-class couple when a pair of free spirits move into the vacant house next door, and Kathryn Grant’s The Good Counselor, in which an African-American lawyer defends a racist white woman accused of murdering her child while wondering whether his own mother gave his troubled brother a fair shake.
The top award of $25,000 and two citations of $7,500 each, plus commemorative plaques, will be presented April 2, 2011 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.
A committee of thirteen theater critics, chaired by William F. Hirschman of the South Florida Theater Review, evaluated the nominated plays. “Despite vanishing government support and faltering donations, America’s regional theaters have persevered and prevailed as this country’s preeminent crucible for vibrant and important new works,” Hirschman said. “The recommended plays encompass a dizzyingly wide range of styles and themes, produced by a cadre of experienced and novice playwrights who are inarguable proof that theater remains a vital and relevant art form in the 21st Century.”
Since the inception of ATCA’s New Play Award, honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Lynn Nottage, Moises Kaufman and Craig Lucas. A full list of 34 years of winners and runners-up for the Steinberg Award can be found here.
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.