The Francesca Primus Prize, awarded annually to an emerging woman playwright and administered by The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), has been awarded to playwright Sharyn Rothstein for her play By the Water, ATCA announced today.
By the Water, commissioned as part of the Ars Nova/Manhattan Theatre Club Writer’s Room, was produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2014. The play is set in Staten Island, New York, in 2012 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Marty and Mary Murphy return to the shattered remains of their home to face a crucial question: Should they join most of the members of their working-class community in taking a government buyout and moving to higher ground or struggle to rebuild the house that has been the center of their family life for decades?
Rothstein, the ATCA press release reports, says the idea for the play sprang from one indelible image. She drove out to Staten Island after the storm to survey the areas earmarked for a buyout: “Leaving behind a community, a lifetime of memories, seemed like an enormous leap of faith and an incredibly difficult decision, but the destruction was gut wrenching. Yet, in front of one neat, clearly beloved house, a man who looked to be in his sixties was tending his lawn. With his whole neighborhood in ruins, with a majority of his neighbors already gone or figuring out how to leave, here was a man clearly standing firm. The image of him standing there amid so much loss was the genesis of my play.”
Rothstein is one of the inaugural writers selected for the Ars Nova Writer’s Room as well as an alumnus of the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Youngblood collective and Primary Stages’ Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group. She has also received an Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation commission for a full-length play. Smith and Kraus published her short play, The Invested, in New Playwrights: The Best Plays of 2013. Her eclectic background includes a BA in sociology from Vassar, an MFA in dramatic writing from NYU, and a master’s degree in public health from Hunter College. In addition to playwriting, Rothstein writes for the television legal drama Suits, now in its fifth season on USA Network. Other plays include March, Camp Monster, Neglect, and For Abigail Who Drowns Men, and Emily Mann will direct Rothstein’s latest play, All the Days, which received the Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award, at the McCarter Theatre Center this spring.
Rothstein was selected from 39 award applicants by a nationwide committee of ATCA member critics, chaired by Barbara Bannon (Salt Lake City, UT) and composed of Julie York Coppens (Juneau, AK), Marianne Evett (Arlington, MA), Kerry Reid (Chicago, IL), Lynn Rosen (Bellingham, WA), and Herb Simpson (Geneseo, NY).