A hip bash held Saturday night at the storied Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky celebrated the newly announced winner of the 2016 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA Award: Qui Nguyen.
Out of six finalists, Nguyen received the award for his play Vietgone, a comedy rooted in his family’s flight from Vietnam that slowly explores the dark corners of its characters. The judging panel, made up of members of the American Theatre Critics Association from across the United States, gave the award to Vietgone for its “vivid, specific voice” along with its “wonderful sense of humor and compelling stakes.”
The Steinberg/ATCA Award honors Nguyen and Vietgone by recognizing him as an outstanding playwright who premiered a play in regional theaters outside of New York City in 2015. But as significantly (and perhaps more so), the Steinberg/ATCA Award is a financial award, and the largest of its kind, granting its winner $25,000.
In his off-the-cuff acceptance speech, Nguyen made a point of honoring his parents with the humor that garnered him the award. After expressing his thanks and gratitude to them, he said, “You know, I wrote a sex comedy about my refugee parents…so I’m sure they’re very proud!” Nguyen also took the moment to make a salient and powerful political point. “You shouldn’t be scared of refugees. My parents are refugees. I’m the child of refugees. Refugees and the children of refugees are the artists of America,” referring to the current Syrian refugee crisis and the reluctance of some American politicians to welcome those refugees to the United States.
Vietgone premiered at the South Coast Repertory Theater in Costa Mesa, California, but other plays by Nguyen have been staged in DC. Most recently, Rorschach Theatre brought Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters in a “hilarious and fluid” staging in 2014.
But Nguyen wasn’t the only honoree of the night. Two other playwrights received citation awards (which is better than it sounds) as runners up: Steven Dietz for time-traveling, Joycean love story Bloomsday and Jen Silverman for her South African, soccer-tinged drama The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane. Each will receive $7,500 in grant money for their plays.
Dietz, with whom DC Theatre Scene will have an interview this week, is a popular playwright on DC stages, receiving 3 productions in the past 3 years. Silverman, who just last year was produced at Baltimore’s Single Carrot Theater as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival will be leading off Woolly Mammoth’s season next year with Collective Outrage: A Play in 5 Boops, described as a story of “five different women named Betty collid[ing] at the intersection of anger, sex, and the ‘thea-tah.”
Also honored was Jonathan Norton and his play Mississippi Goddam, previously announced winner of the $1,000 M. Elizabeth Osborne New Play Award for an outstanding emerging playwright. Norton’s play, whose title is taken from the Nina Simone song, follows the story of a family neighboring civil rights icon Medgar Evers and the difficult choices they must make in a difficult time.
Be on the lookout for these plays as they are picked up by theatre companies around the country with some, perhaps, coming to a DC theater near you.