All the Way, a story about Lyndon Johnson’s frantic efforts to win passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, has won the 2013 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award and $25,000 for playwright Robert Schenkkan, the American Theatre Critics Association announced Sunday night at the Humana Festival.
Johanna Adams‘ Gidion’s Knot, which debuted at the 2012 Contemporary American Theater Festival, won a $7,500 runner-up prize, as did Lucas Hnath’s Death Tax.
Schenkkan’s play was selected from among forty-two nominated by theater critics from all over the country for the Steinberg, which is given for the best script which premiered professionally outside of New York City in 2012.
The American Theatre Critics Association, the only national association for professional theatre critics, selects the annual winner on behalf of the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Foundation, which funds it.
ATCA, in selecting All the Way, called it “an engrossing, epic depiction of Johnson’s struggle to get the Civil Rights Act passed through a recalcitrant Congress while simultaneously balancing an imminent election campaign.
“This masterfully constructed tale is an unblinking look at the gritty nature of compromise and pragmatism in a good cause that thrusts us into the deepest, darkest corners of a political firestorm,” ATCA noted. “Schenkkan creates a flawed hero who is complex, obscene, brilliant and ruthless and committed to using his power in a pivotal moment in this country’s social evolution.”
All the Way debuted on July 25, 2012 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Days later, it became one of two inaugural winners of the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History which carries a $50,000 prize.
In honoring Gidion’s Knot, a play about the aftermath of a child’s suicide after he wrote a beautiful, menacing, obscene story, ATCA observed that the play was “ ‘a perfect piece of theater’ that is both exhilarating and devastating…the play puts in direct conflict two cherished values — freedom of expression and the safety of our children.”
(DCTS’ review of Gidion’s Knot is here.)
Lucas Hnath’s Death Tax, a story about desperation, suspicion and, especially, money in a nursing home, also won a runner-up prize for a story which ATCA said “dissects greed, dysfunctional human relationships and the potential implications of a medical paradigm that can keep people alive indefinitely.” Hnath’s Red Speedo is scheduled for production at Studio Theatre next season.
“Despite renewed concerns about the prognosis for theater as a relevant and popularly embraced art form,” said Bill Hirschman of FloridaTheaterOnStage.com, who chaired the Committee which selected the winners, “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. 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.”