On Saturday, March 31st, three playwrights received awards and checks totaling $40,000 at the 36th Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky.
Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, Yussef El Guindi’s play about a man who comes to America from Egypt and falls in love with a life-buffeted American waitress has won the $25,000 Steinberg/ATCA Award for the best new play from American regional theater in 2011.
Pilgrims Musa…was one of over two dozen plays nominated by members of the American Theatre Critics Association, which selects the prize winner.
Seattle Times theater critic Misha Berson called Pilgrims Musa… an “insightful, openhearted new comedy lives in the America where ‘pilgrims’ of goodwill, from across the globe, come seeking economic betterment, but also a kind of individual liberation rarely available elsewhere.”
Born in Egypt, raised in London and now based in Seattle, El Guindi received a B.A. from American University in Cairo and a 1985 MFA in playwriting from Carnegie-Mellon University. He frequently examines the collision of ethnicities, cultures and politics that face Arab-Americans. He has had at least 16 plays produced since 2001 in regional theaters from Durham to Anchorage. At the same time, he has worked as resident playwright at Silk Road Theatre Project; literary manager for Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco; playwright in residence, dramaturg and lecturer at Duke University; and dramaturg for Eureka Theatre and reader for The Magic Theatre, both in San Francisco.
A play about living with autism and one about three young adults fending off a hostile and indifferent world won the Steinberg’s two $7,500 runner-up awards. Ken LaZebnik’s On the Spectrum told the story of a highly-functioning young autistic man who seeks to use his skills as a graphic designer to bolster his family’s failing fortunes, and who falls in with an autistic client who teaches him economic disappointment while taking him on the first tentative steps toward love.
Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them was first seen by ATCA nominators at last year’s Humana Festival. In A. Rey Pamatmat’s play, a sixteen-year old boy and his twelve-year-old sister live on a farm, virtually abandoned by their widowed father. The boy, a math prodigy, is exploring the forbidden love he feels for another young man.
ATCA created the award in 1977 to recognize excellence in playwriting by honoring the best new plays not yet produced in New York City. Since 2000, The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust has funded it generously, making the $40,000 Steinberg/ATCA the largest national new play award of its kind.
Harold Steinberg created the Steinberg Charitable Trust in 1986 on behalf of himself and his late wife. Pursuing its primary mission to support the American theater, it has provided millions of dollars to encourage new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theater.
“The long-standing partnership between the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust and the American Theatre Critics Association has recognized some of today’s greatest writers, and helped identify the great playwrights of tomorrow,” said trustee Jim Steinberg. “We’re delighted to help support the unique telling of tales on the American stage.”