Gidion’s Knot, Johanna Adams’ stunning confrontation between an elementary school teacher and the mother of a boy who had committed suicide, is one of six finalists for the $25,000 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, recognizing playwrights for the best scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2012.
Gidion’s Knot debuted at Shepherdstown, West Virginia’s Contemporary American Theater Festival July, 2012. “Gidion’s Knot…consistently confounds expectations and explodes clichés,” DCTS said at the time of the production.
Gideon’s Knot joins a taut story about high-stakes currency manipulation, an examination of how Lyndon Johnson secured passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a Lucas Hnath story about the struggle of a nursing home patient to evade the predatory grasp of her daughter and her nurse, a magical-realism drama about a man who attempts to persuade a farmer to allow his company to build windmills on his farm, and an account of a beautiful woman’s resort to the hajib to evade the public’s attention, as finalists for ATCA’s Steinberg Award.
2013 Elizabeth Osborne Award winner announced
Torso, Keri Healy’s story of a drunken woman who talks with her surly cab-driver about the death of her sister through medical malpractice and the spectacular murder of a high school friend, has won ATCA’s Elizabeth Osborne Award, given annually to an emerging playwright who has not yet received national status. The Osborne carries a $1,000 prize.
Brendan Kieley of “The Stranger” called Torso “theater noir, a moody, nuanced play” in which “Healey takes the gray, heavy, oozing mass of grief and uses it to give texture to what is, essentially, a suspense play.”
Healy, a Seattle-based playwright, based Torso on incidents from her real life. Her own sister died at age 38 as a result of a misdiagnosed aortic aneurism, and an old friend from high school conspired with her brother in 2008 to murder another brother in a financial dispute.
“Something about them was bugging me,” she told Kiley. “I was missing my sister so much that it seemed unbelievable that someone who came from my same upbringing and background was implicated in a sibling murder.”
The five plays which joined Gidion’s Knot as Steinberg finalists earned similar kudos from local reviewers. Hnath’s Death Tax, in which an elderly woman believes that her daughter has bribed a nurse to poison her before a new inheritance tax becomes effective, earned comparison’s to John Patrick Shanley’s brilliant Doubt. Backstage’s David Sheward said that “Hnath’s incisive script examines the moral questions raised when the issues are muddy” and called the play “a fascinating, complex puzzle.”
Hnath’s Red Speedo is scheduled for production at Studio Theatre next season.
A mystery of a different sort – how Lyndon Johnson got a recalcitrant Congress to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act – makes up Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way, another Steinberg finalist. Schenkkan takes one year in this outsized man’s life – from the assassination of his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, to his election in November of 1964 – and reproduces it with the scope and detail of a Shakespearean epic.
“Here’s a drama with a palpable passion for its subject” Robert Faires of the Austin Chronicle wrote, “the man in the White House and the cause of civil rights he fights for in his first months there – which it takes on with the resolve, force, and urgency of LBJ wading into a Congressional floor fight.”
Dan O’Neil’s fablelike The Wind Farmer, in which a young representative of a wind-power corporation seeks to convince a stubborn farmer to allow his companies to build windmills on “the windiest place on earth,” his farm, is another Steinberg finalist. “It’s an incredibly timely piece that will take you on a journey to a place I guarantee you’ve never gone, even in your dreams,” timesnews.net enthused.
The Steinberg finalists also include The Invisible Hand, in which a commodities trader is kidnapped by Pakistani terrorists. When his company refuses to pay the ransom, the trader convinces his captors to allow him to raise the money by teaching them how to play the futures market. KHDX’s Chuck Lavazzi called Ayad Akhtar’s play “an intellectual fireworks display that combines the now-familiar hostage drama with a revelatory (at least to me) lesson in 20th-century economic history.”
“A play in which the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreements on monetary management occupy a central role might not sound like an exciting and engrossing evening of theatre but, trust me, it is,” Lavazzi said.
Mia McCullough’s Impenetrable, a play about a beautiful woman who resorts to wearing a hajib after her picture is used on a billboard to advertise for a spa, rounds out the Steinberg finalists. “McCullough smartly moves well beyond a riff on the eternal ache triggered by matters of youth, beauty and feminist values, to tap into a slew of other hot-button issues, none of which have easy answers,” the Chicago Sun-Times’ Hedy Weiss observed.
Steinberg award winners are selected by a panel of critics from the American Theatre Critics Association. “Despite renewed concerns about the prognosis for theater as a relevant and popularly embraced art form, the stunning array and high quality of scripts we read confirmed the enduring commitment of regional theaters and a dazzling diversity of playwrights to be the primary standard-bearers for new works,” Steinberg/Osborne Chair Bill Hirschman said.
“Far from disconnected and elitist, the plays reflected themes and settings ranging from the economic challenges faced by real people in this country to the moral questions created by American involvement on the world stage.”
Critics from across the country nominated forty-two new plays.
The top Steinberg Award winner will receive $25,000 and two playwrights will receive $7,500 each, presented on April 6, 2013 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
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.
The M. Elizabeth Osborn Award was established in 1993, named for American Theatre play editor M. Elizabeth Osborn.