9 Circles, a play about a tortured young soldier’s climb through an Iraqi inferno, has won the $25,000 Harold and Mimi Steinberg Award as the best new play arising out of regional theater in 2010 for playwright Bill Cain. David Bar Katz’s The History of Invulnerability, which will be part of Theater J’s 2011-2012 season, was one of two announced runners-up.
This is the second consecutive first-place finish for Cain in the Steinberg balloting, which is conducted by a committee of the American Theatre Critics Association. His play Equivocation, which won the Steinberg Award last year, will be part of Arena’s 2011-2012 season.
9 Circles follows the journey of Pvt. Daniel Reeves, a furious, emotionally wounded young man, as he confronts his past in Iraq. Like The Inferno, 9 Circles takes its protagonist to nine different levels of pain and confusion until he, and we, fully understand what he has done. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Robert Hurwitt called it “a dense, fiercely performed and provocative journey”.
The History of Invulnerability is a complex and insightful play which at first appears to be an amusing confrontation between the comic hero Superman and his creator, Jerry Siegel, but soon evolves into broad, profound commentary about vulnerability and our reaction to it. Bar Katz’ startling perspective is that Superman, and other contemporary superheroes such as Spider-man, arose from the efforts of Jewish artists to assert control of their universe in the face of the holocaust. “In my book,” Cincinnati CityBeat critic Rick Pender wrote, “Bar Katz has X-ray vision to see into the human soul, and his powerful play should be required viewing.” The History of Invulnerability will run from June 6 to July 8, 2012, at Theater J.
The other announced Steinberg runner-up is Kathryn Grant’s The Good Counselor, a story about an African-American lawyer who defends a bigoted young white woman accused of killing her child. Set on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, it examines the lawyer’s relationship with his own mother, an old-school disciplinarian who adores him but who is troubled by his older brother, a drug addict. Reviewing a New Jersey production, Anita Gates of the New York Times observed that the characters “leave us with a mystery that is as big as the leap into parenthood itself.”
Bar Katz and Grant will each receive $7,500 runner-up prizes from the Steinberg Foundation. Checks and commemorative plaques were presented to Cain, Katz and Grant on April 2 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. The award recognizes playwrights for the best scripts that premiere professionally outside New York City during the previous calendar year.
The M. Elizabeth Osborn Award for emerging playwrights went to Cori Thomas for When January Feels Like Summer, a comedy about the developing relationship between a homophobic young African-American and an East Indian aspiring transsexual. “For a brand new play, January is impressively complete and self-assured,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette senior critic Christopher Rawson observed.
Twenty-seven scripts were nominated by ATCA members, and the winners were chosen by a committee led by Wm. F. Hirschman of the South Florida Theater Review. “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,” said Hirschman. “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.”
Other committee members included Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Bruce Burgun, Bloomington Herald Times and Back Stage; Michael Elkin, Jewish Exponent (Pa.); Jay Handelman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; Pam Harbaugh, Florida Today (Melbourne, Fla.); Leonard Jacobs, The Clyde Fitch Report; Elizabeth Keill, Independent Press (Morristown, N.J.); Elizabeth Maupin, Elizabeth Maupin on Theater (Orlando, Fla.); Wendy Parker, The Village Mill (Midlothian, Va.); David Sheward, Back Stage (New York) and Herb Simpson, City Newspaper (Rochester, N.Y.) and myself.