Michael Cristofer, who wrote the libretto for the opera Champion, seen at Washington National Opera earlier this year, mined the same territory to write Man in the Ring, which debuted in Chicago last September. The American Theatre Critics Association yesterday announced that his efforts have earned him the $25,000 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association Award, given annually to the best new play produced outside of New York.
ATCA presented the award at the Humana New Play Festival in Louisville on April 8.
Man in the Ring, like Champion, deals with the life of bisexual boxing champion Emile Griffith, who killed welterweight championship opponent Benny Paret in the ring after Paret hurled a homosexual slur at Griffith in the weigh-in. Tom Williams of the Chicago Critic called Man in the Ring “a gripping and fascinating new work” and observed that “I can’t remember a tighter, more polished world premiere drama on a Chicago stage in many years”.
Two veteran playwrights, Tracy Letts and David Rabe, received $7,500 Steinberg citations for plays which also debuted in Chicago. Letts’ Mary Page Marlowe traces the life of an unremarkable Midwestern CPA, starting with the title character’s announcement, at age 40, that she is divorcing her husband and moves backward and forward in time. Charles Isherwood of the New York Times called it an “exquisite… haunting, elliptical drama about the evolutions, reversals and resurrections in a woman’s life.” Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune called it “deeply moving.”
Rabe’s Visiting Edna is a story about a widow, in her late seventies with terminal cancer who receives an uncomfortable visit from her son. Among Rabe’s actor-portrayed characters is a television set and, well, cancer. “Jolly or joyful this is not,” said Steve Oxman of Variety, “but the work ultimately has a deeply searing power, both because of and despite an insistent slow burn and an absence of explosions.”
In addition to the Steinberg citations, the theatre critics gave the $1,000 Osborne Award for best new play by an emerging artist to Jonathan Norton for Mississippi Goddam, a speculative play about the neighbors of civic rights icon Medgar Evers.
“The vibrancy and range of the work this year was remarkable,” said Lou Harry of the Indianapolis Business Journal, who chairs the Steinberg Award Committee for ATCA. “Our ATCA committee members relish the opportunity to experience the work of these theater artists and passionately debate them with colleagues. I’m thrilled with the resulting awards, which I hope will encourage future productions of all three outstanding plays.”
The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust was created in 1986 by Harold Steinberg on behalf of himself and his late wife. In support of the American theater, it has provided grants totaling millions of dollars for new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theater.
In addition to Harry, members of the Awards committee are: Misha Berson, Seattle Times, American Theatre (Seattle, WA); Bruce Burgun, The New Orleans Advocate (New Orleans, LA.); Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times (Madison, WI); Mike Fischer, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Milwaukee, WI); Pam Harbaugh, BrevardCulture.com, florida.theatrestage.com (Indialantic, FL); Michael P. Howley, theatremontgomery.blogspot.com (Montgomery, AL); Erin Keane, managing editor, Salon.com (Louisville, KY); Mark Lowry, TheaterJones.com, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Dallas, TX); Jonathan Mandell, NewYorkTheater.me, DC Theatre Scene (New York, NY); Julius Novick, veteran critic and professor (New York City); Marjorie Oberlander, The Shakespeare Newsletter (New York, NY); Kathryn Osenlund, Phindie, CurtainUp (Philadelphia); Wendy Parker, freelance (Midlothian, Va); David Sheward, ArtsinNY.com, Theaterlife.com (Jackson Heights, NY); Martha Wade Steketee, Howlround.com, TDF Stages (New York, NY); and Perry Tannenbaum, Creative Loafing, CVNC.org, (Charlotte, NC).