Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Top Steinberg/ATCA Prize Goes to Robert Schenkkan for LBJ Drama

The Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Awards are handed out every year during the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville. This year, the finalists were Johnna Adams for her script Gidion's Knot, a teacher/parent drama about suicide and grief; Ayad Akhtar for his political thriller The Invisible Hand; Luca Hnath for Death Tax, a life, death and taxes struggle that premiered at last year's Humana Festival; Mia McCullough for Impenetrable, about beauty and its impossible standards; Dan O'Neal for The Wind Farmer, a mythic piece about hanging on to old traditions in a changing world; and Robert Schenkkan for All the Way, a new play about President Lyndon Johnson.

A committee within the American Theatre Critics Association reads scripts suggested by its membership, choosing six finalists -- new plays first produced outside New York City -- from among the field submitted. The ATCA reports that this year, they evaluated a record 42 plays for consideration for the Steinberg/ATCA New Play citations, which awards a total of $40,000 to the winning playwrights. That sum represents "the largest national new play award focusing on regional theaters as the crucible for new plays in the United States."

Robert Schenkkan
Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan was the big winner, with a $25,000 check presented along with a plaque, for his LBJ play, All the Way, which was commissioned to be performed last summer as part of the "American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle" project at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Schenkkan is no stranger to American history; his Kentucky Cycle won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1991. Characters like Hubert Humphrey, J. Edgar Hoover and Martin Luther King, Jr. populated the landscape of Schenkkan's play, an exploration of how Lyndon Johnson came to power and how this "charismatic, conflicted Texan hurl[ed] himself into Civil Rights legislation, throwing the country into turmoil." The ATCA judges called the play "an engrossing, epic" play and described Schenkkan's version of LBJ as "complex, obscene, brilliant and ruthless." 

Actor Jack Willis as Lyndon Johnson in the OSF production of All the Way
The two $7500 citations went to Adams' Gideon's Knot and Hnath's Death Tax, both gripping dramas about the American way of life and death.

Adams' play premiered at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Gidion's Knot involves a grieving mother who clashes with her dead son's teacher to try to find some explanation for his suicide. Fifth-grader Gidion wrote a horrifying story for school, something powerful and violent and strange, but no more violent, no more strange than the medieval literature his mother studies. Was Gidion too aggressive to stay in school? Or pushed around by other aggressors? Either way, who's to blame?

The issues in Hnath's Death Tax are equally compelling, as we see a withered old woman, a dragon sitting on a pile of money, who tries to bargain with her nurse in an assisted care facility to keep herself alive. Nurse Tina is not on the take to murder her patient, even if she can't convince the old dragon of that. "Without positing easy answers, the play dissects greed, dysfunctional human relationships and the potential implications of a medical paradigm that can keep people alive indefinitely," noted the ATCA. 

Since its inception, the Steinberg New Play Award has singled out and honored playwrights like
Arthur Miller, Marsha Norman, Lynn Nottage, August Wilson and Lanford Wilson. Yussef  El Guindi took the prize last year for his play Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World. For the complete list of winners and runners-up, click here.

For more information on the Steinberg/ATCA Award, contact William F. Hirschman, chair of the ATCA New Play Committee, at muckrayk@aol.com or 954-478-1123; Jay Handelman, ATCA chair, at criticjay@gmail.com,or 941-361-4931; or Christopher Rawson, ATCA communications chair, at cchr@pitt.edu or 412-216-1944.

No comments:

Post a Comment