Sweat, Lynn Nottage’s meditation on the deteriorating American working class wrapped in a who-done-it, heads up a list of six finalists for the $25,000 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, the American Theatre Critics Association announced this weekend.
Nottage’s story, which played at Arena Stage earlier this year, won 5-Star plaudits from Alan Katz, who called its plotting “brilliant and unexpected.”.Nottage wrote the play after interviewing people in Reading, Pennsylvania, where Sweat is situated. Kimberley Scott, who is featured as a longtime employee of a Union factory, noted that the play is a “micro view of what is happening broadly across the nation as we are experiencing the de-industrialization of America. The play shows this situation on an emotional and individual level” in this interview by Jeffrey Walker. Sweat, in addition to being a Steinberg finalist, won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, a $25,000 award given to women who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theater.
Nottage protégé Jen Silverman, whose Phoebe in Winter at Baltimore’s Single Carrot Theatre was a featured part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, is also a finalist for her The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane. Mbane is the story of a South African soccer star who returns from England to South Africa to find her lover, who runs a shelter for lesbians who have suffered “corrective rape”, designed to change their orientation.” Silverman’s script handles its politics deftly, keeping character front and center,” wrote Wendy Rosenfeld of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Silverman’s Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops, a Relentless Award semifinalist, will lead off Woolly Mammoth’s 2016-2017 season.
The prolific Steven Dietz is also a finalist with his Bloomsday, the story of an Irish tour guide showing off the particulars of James Joyce’s Dublin and the American tourist who falls in love with her. As the romance deepens, the couple’s 55-year-old selves appear to comment. Misha Berson of the Seattle Times called it “A literary and time-travel tale, wrapped with ribbon around a wistful love story.”
Samuel Hunter, whose work has appeared in this area (The Whale at Rep Stage; A Bright New Boise at Woolly) is also on the short list for Clarkston, a play about two Costco employees in a small town in Eastern Washington. One is an aspiring writer; the other is a distant relative of the explorer William Clark, of Lewis & Clark fame. Both have more dreams than prospects, and bad problems they don’t want to discuss. “Clarkston does a remarkable job of telling a heart-tugging love story without becoming sappy,” said Manuel Mendoza of the Dallas Morning Review.
Mississippi Goddam, Jonathan Norton’s story of the family who lived in the house next to Medgar Evers, is also on the shortlist. The play, which takes its title from the famous song by Nina Simone, explores the anxiety of Evers’ African-American neighbors, who are threatened both economically and physically by Evers’ activism. “Some shows have warnings for strobe lights. Some have them for loud gunshots. Some for smoke. Mississippi Goddamn…should have one for intensity,” wrote David Novinski of TheaterJones.
The final finalist is Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone, a story of a man and women who meet at a Vietnamese refugee camp after the fall of Saigon and fall in love. The play is absolutely not based on Nguyen’s parents, which the playwright makes clear through a character named Qui Nguyen appears. insists that the couple are “a completely made-up man,” and “a completely not-real woman,” and warns audience members not to rat him out to his parents. “The pathos of Quang’s quixotic mission and his unplanned romance with Tong, a great beauty who has little interest in acting demure after all that she’s been through, have a sneaky emotional power,” Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times observed. “Just as a graphic novel can sometimes capture historical horror more vividly than documentary attempts, Nguyen’s antic manner conveys the extent of his characters’ losses and their brave determination to survive them more piercingly than a more sentimentally somber work.” Nguyen’s work (Living Dead in Denmark, about a Zombie Elsinore, and She Kills Monsters, the story of a woman who seeks her dead sister through a game of Dungeons and Dragons) has been produced locally by Rorschach.
“It isn’t just a privilege, it’s an honor to have the opportunity to experience the work of these theater artists and to passionately debate with such learned colleagues,” said ATCA New Play Committee chair Lou Harry of the Indianapolis Business Journal. “These are six plays the American theatre can take great pride in—plays that deserve long lives and multiple productions.”
The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust funds the Steinberg/ATCA Award, which includes not only the top prize of $25,000 but two runner-up prizes of $7,500 apiece. The Award goes to the best new play produced outside New York City.
Theatre critics on the panel, in addition to Henry, include Kathleen Allen, freelance (Tucson, AZ); Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Bruce Burgun, freelance (New Orleans, LA.); Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times (Madison, WI); Evans Donnell, Nashvilleartscritic.com (Nashville, TN); Pam Harbaugh, BrevardCulture.com, florida. theatreonstage.com (Indialantic, FL); Michael P. Howley, theatremontgomery.blogspot. com (Montgomery, AL); Erin Keane, culture editor, Salon.com (Louisville, KY); Jerry Kraft,www.SeattleActor.com, (Port Angeles, Wash.); Mark Lowry, TheaterJones.com and Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Dallas, TX); Julius Novick, veteran critic and professor (New York City); Kathryn Osenlund, CurtainUp, Phindie (Philadelphia); Wendy Parker, XX (Midlothian, Va); Frank Rizzo, Variety (New Haven, CT); David Sheward, ArtsinNY.com, Theaterlife.com, CulturalWeekly.com (Jackson Heights, NY); Martha Wade Steketee, Howlround.com, TDF Stages, UrbanExcavations.com (New York, NY); Herb Simpson, artesmagazine.com, and totaltheater.com (Geneseo, N.Y.); and Perry Tannenbaum, Creative Loafing, CVNC.org, Charlotte, NC).