Wednesday, March 9, 2011

ATCA New Play Finalists Announced

The American Theatre Critics Association, also known as the ATCA, has announced six finalists for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award. This award recognizes the playwrights behind the best new plays premiering in professional productions outside New York City.

The ATCA started its New Play Award in 1977 as a way to honor new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City, where most awards are centered. And that's why no play is eligible if it has gone on to a New York production within the award year. Since 2000, the award has been generously funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.

The six finalists below were selected from 27 eligible scripts submitted by ATCA members. They were evaluated by a committee of 13 theater critics, led by chairman William F. Hirschman of the South Florida Theater Review. The committee includes members from Washington, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey, Virginia, New York and DC.

"Despite vanishing government support and faltering donations, America’s regional theaters have persevered and prevailed as this country’s preeminent crucible for vibrant and important new works," said Hirschman. "The recommended plays encompass a dizzyingly wide range of styles and themes, produced by a cadre of experienced and novice playwrights who are inarguable proof that theater remains a vital and relevant art form in the 21st century."

The top award ($25,000) and two finalist citations ($7,500 each), plus commemorative plaques, are presented each year at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. This year's ceremony is scheduled for April 2. The Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award's total of $40,000 in prizes makes it the largest national new play award of its kind.

So here are the lucky finalists, as described by the ATCA press materials:

COMPULSION by Rinne Groff, is a painfully close-up look at the destructive nature of obsession. Loosely based on the life of Meyer Levin, the fictional tale tracks an American writer’s all-consuming crusade to have The Diary of Anne Frank printed in the United States and then to have his own theatrical script produced, a script he believes is being rejected because it focuses on Frank’s religion. The co-production premiered on February 4, 2010 at Yale Repertory Theatre and then September 16 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

DETROIT by Lisa D’Amour, bowed September 9 at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. It depicts a classic suburban family who welcome a quirky couple who have moved into the long-empty house next door. During a series of backyard barbecues, the couples learn each other’s secrets in a serio-comic exposure of middle-class life.

THE GOOD COUNSELOR by Kathryn Grant, questions the definition of a good mother. It centers on an African-American lawyer defending a young white racist charged with murdering her three-week old baby. His own investigation forces him to re-examine his own mother’s choice to favor his development and to abandon his younger brother. The work premiered July 15 at Premiere Stages, based at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.

THE HISTORY OF INVULNERABILITY by David Bar Katz, uses the life of Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, to explore the roots of art and how it relates to the real world. It contends that the nebbishy Siegel evolved Superman as a fantasy to counteract his guilt and impotence over the horror of the Holocaust half a world away. It premiered April 3 at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

NINE CIRCLES by Bill Cain, follows the harrowing descent into a very recognizable hell by a young American soldier accused of an atrocity in Iraq. His journey through the bureaucratic and social maze mirrors Dante’s vision of an arduous odyssey to find redemptive self-knowledge. The play premiered October 14 at Marin Theatre Company.

SPLINTERS by Emily Schwend, was first produced June 29 as part of the Cultural Development Corporation’s Source Festival in Washington, D.C. The drama portrays a teenager and her parents struggling in disparate dysfunctional ways to cope with the disappearance of a young daughter.

Since the inception of ATCA's New Play Award, honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Lynn Nottage, Moises Kaufman and Craig Lucas. Last year’s honoree was Bill Cain for EQUIVOCATION. For a full list of 34 years of winners and runners-up, go to and click on Steinberg-ATCA 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 grants totaling millions of dollars for new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theater.

ATCA was founded in 1974 and works to raise critical standards and public awareness of critics’ functions and responsibilities. The only national association of professional theater critics, with several hundred members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and websites, ATCA is part of the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

ATCA also presents the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, honoring emerging playwrights, and the Francesca Primus Prize, funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, honoring outstanding contributions to the American theater by female artists who have not yet achieved national prominence. Annually it makes a recommendation for the Regional Theater Tony Award presented by the American Theatre Wing/Broadway League and votes on inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.

For more information on ATCA, visit


  1. Thanks for keeping us informed on these awards and these particular plays.

  2. I wish somebody (ATCA?) would publish these plays so we could read them, too. The Superman one and Rinne Groff's "Compulsion" sound especially interesting to me.