U.S. Theater Critics Name Finalists for Largest National New Play Award

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The American Theatre Critics Association has announced six finalists for the 2009 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, which recognizes the best new scripts produced professionally outside New York City during 2008.

The winner and two additional citations will be presented April 4 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. The top award includes a commemorative plaque and a cash prize of $25,000 -- currently the largest national new play award -- with $7,500 each for the two citations.

The finalists:

* "Becky's New Car" by Steven Dietz is "a warmly humorous and nimble romantic farce, a genial consideration of loves lost and found, midlife and middle-class ennui and American car lust," said the Seattle Times. It was premiered in October 2008 by ACT Theatre in Seattle.

* "Great Falls" by Lee Blessing is a wry drama about a stepfather and his disaffected stepdaughter trying to make connections on a road trip across the American West. It was produced in February 2008 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Blessing won the award in 2006 for "A Body of Water" and 1987 for "A Walk in the Woods."

* "Lydia" by Octavio Solis is a searing depiction of a dysfunctional Mexican-American family in the 1970s dealing with issues of immigration, assimilation and mental illness. It premiered at the Denver Center Theatre Company in January 2008.

* "Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat" by Yussef El Guindi depicts Muslim-Americans struggling among themselves how to portray their cultural identity and how deeply to assimilate in the post-9/11 world. It was produced in March 2008 by Silk Road Theatre Project in Chicago.

* "Song of Extinction" by E.M. Lewis starts as a realistic examination of ecology, genocide, isolation, music, family relationships and a host of other issues but morphs into a dreamscape which weaves the disparate strands into a cohesive pattern of inter-connectedness. It premiered in November 2008 at Moving Arts in Hollywood. Last year, Lewis won ATCA's Francesca Primus Award, given to a female theater artists who has not yet attained national recognition.

* "Superior Donuts" by Tracy Letts is a comic drama portraying the resurrection of a former '60s radical who is hiding from disappointments and tragedies by running a tiny Chicago doughnut shop. His isolation is challenged by a young black man seeking a job and running from some secrets of his own. It premiered in June at Steppenwolf Theater.

Consideration for the Steinberg/ATCA awards is limited to new plays not yet produced in New York City by the end of the year. These six finalists were selected from plays nominated by ATCA members, then evaluated by its New Play Committee of 13 theater critics, led by chairman Wm. F. Hirschman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

"This year's entries dig deep into the soul of America with timely issues about technology's effect on humanity and timeless issues about searching for meaningful human connections," Hirschman said. "The nominated plays reflect an encouraging range of well-known names and newcomers, young voices and mature talents, the mainstream drama and the surreal."

Honorees since 1977 have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson (six times), Jane Martin, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Lynn Nottage, Horton Foote and Craig Lucas. Last year's winner was Moises Kaufman for "33 Variations," now being staged on Broadway, starring Jane Fonda.

Each year's honorees are chronicled in "The Best Plays Theater Yearbook," edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, alongside the 10 best plays produced that year in New York City. For a complete list of the 80 plays cited from 1977 through 2008, go to www.americantheatrecritics.org, under Awards.

The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust was created in 1986 by Harold Steinberg on behalf of himself and his late wife. Pursuing its primary mission to support the American theater, it has provided millions of dollars to support new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theater.

The only national association of professional theater critics, with several hundred members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and websites, ATCA is the U.S. national section of the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

Other ATCA New Play committee members are Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Bruce Burgun, Bloomington Herald Times and Back Stage; Michael Elkin, Jewish Exponent (Pa.); Jay Handelman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; Pam Harbaugh, Florida Today (Melbourne); Leonard Jacobs, New York Press, Back Stage and The Clyde Fitch Report; Chad Jones, Oakland (Cal.) Tribune; Elizabeth Keill, Independent Press (Morristown, NJ); Elizabeth Maupin, Orlando Sentinel; Wendy Parker, The Village Mill (Midlothian, Va.); Michael Sander, Back Stage (Minn.); and Herb Simpson, Totaltheater.com (Rochester, NY).

Christopher Rawson is ATCA chair. For further info, contact him at crawson@post-gazette.com.


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