Luna Gale, Rebecca Gilman’s tale about a social worker struggling to place a newborn who has methamphetamine-addicted parents and a grandmother who belongs to an apocalyptic cult, last night won the $25,000 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award at the Humana New Play Festival in Louisville, ATCA Board Chair Bill Hirschman announced Saturday night.
Nathan Alan Davis’ Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea, a play which captivated viewers at last year’s Source Festival in DC, won a $7,500 runner-up prize, as did Lucas Hnath’s (Red Speedo) The Christians, which debuted at last year’s Humana Festival.
Luna Gale, Dontrell, and The Christians were among six finalists for the Steinberg previously announced. A fourth finalist, Thomas Coash’s Veils, received ATCA’s M. Elizabeth Osborn Award for best new play by an emerging writer. Coash’s play told the story about two young Muslim women – a devout American and a more secular Egyptian – in Cairo at the dawning of the Arab Spring. It debuted at Portland Stage in Maine.
Gilman, an Associate Professor of Playwriting and Screenwriting at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago, is the author of Spinning Into Butter and Boy Gets Girl, a Pulitzer semi-finalist, among many other plays (including a second play nominated for a Steinberg this year). Luna Gale debuted at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and has since played at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles.
Dontrell is the story of a young man haunted by his dream of an ancient, heroic ancestor who drowned himself in the Atlantic during the middle passage rather than be sold into slavery in America. Funny, profane and insightful, the play compassionately follows Dontrell as pursues his destiny to reunite with that ancestor, as compelled as the salmon is compelled to swim upstream. After its Source production, Dontrell became part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere Program and was co-produced by the Skylight Theatre Company and the Lower Depths Theatre Ensemble in Los Angeles, and is being produced by Theater Alliance at Anacostia Playhouse May 7 – 31, 2015.
Hnath, whose Death Tax was a Steinberg runner-up in 2013, wrote a story about a Christian sect (not further identified) which grew from a small storefront to a megachurch, and which now faces a radical change – its longtime minister no longer believes in the existence of Hell. This new belief divides the congregation, with the minister’s old-school assistant starting a rival church which builds its membership from congregants who cannot imagine Heaven without Hell.
The $40,000 Steinberg Award is a gift of the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, which Harold Steinberg created to support American theater. The Steinberg Award goes to the best play by an American debuting in the previous year which did not run in New York City, and is selected by the American Theatre Critics Association’s New Play Committee.
The $1,000 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award is given annually for the best new play by an emerging playwright which is also eligible for the Steinberg Award, and is also selected by ATCA’s New Play Committee. Last year’s Osborn winner, Topher Payne’s Perfect Arrangement, also debuted at the Source Festival.
The 27 Steinberg-nominated plays “reflected themes and settings encompassing bullying, racism, sexual identity in a repressive society, a street-level view of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and genocidal civil war,” said Hirschman of FloridaTheaterOnStage.com, who is completing a lengthy run as New Plays Chair in order to assume his new duties as ATCA Board chair. “They referenced how technology is creating previously unimagined ethical questions and asked tough questions about how the economic downtown has challenged what people thought were their unshakeable values.”
Lou Harry of the Indianapolis Business Journal has succeeded Hirschman as Chair of the New Plays Committee.