The American Theatre Critics Association has announced the six finalists for this year's Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, which recognizes the best scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2016. With $40,000 total presented during the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Steinberg/ATCA Awards represent the "largest national new play award program of its kind." Three playwrights will receive recognition, with a top award of $25,000 and two citations of $7,500 each.
The six finalists for 2017 include two plays first produced by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre and four productions total from Chicago theaters, which says a lot about the city's commitment to new work and theatrical excellence. Playwright Tracy Letts has been nominated before for his work with Steppenwolf, with a citation for Superior Donuts in 2009. Among the other playwrights in the group, Michael Cristofer took top honors way back in 1996 for his play Amazing Grace. For the complete list of previous honorees, click here.
This year's finalists are:
The Ice Treatment by Nate Eppler. Premiered at Actors Bridge Ensemble, Nashville. "'Compelling, with fast moving story and well-constructed dialogue...plus a cosmonaut,' opined one panelist of Eppler’s darkly funny take on celebrity, concerning a 'modern day, working-class monster—or is she?' 'Always on the verge of careening out of control, the tonal shifts are wild,' chimed in others of this 'interrogation of the American Dream' as an ice skater 'writes her own story, regardless of the truth.'"
in a word by Lauren Yee. Produced via the National New Play Network with a rolling world premiere at the San Francisco Playhouse, Cleveland Public Theatre and Straw Dog Theatrein Chicago. "'Important and honest questions are being asked, here,' commented one panelist. 'Yee’s masterful drama about a mother's living nightmare after a child's disappearance is a mystery of word puzzles' that are 'lyrical and haunting and very well-constructed.' 'To have an ending that is satisfying dramatically but still appropriately unresolved is a tough nut to crack and this one does it.'"
Man in the Ring by Michael Cristofer. Premiered at the Court Theatre, Chicago. With “the inexorable feel of a classic tragedy,” this drama “with its Caribbean songs and its rhythm and thrust, seems at first to be a play of beautiful and utter simplicity. But au contraire.” Based on the true story of a boxer who killed a man in the ring, “the playwright threads through guilt and tragedy, weaving past and present together seamlessly.” This rich play stays “within the playwright’s total control while allowing for the frayed edges that make it feel alive and not premeditated.”
Mary Page Marlowe by Tracy Letts. Premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago. "'Generous and incredibly specific,' Letts’ play drew panelists in 'by both the flawed, multifaceted woman at the play’s center and how the non-linear storytelling painted this vivid picture of her.' Added others: 'The beauty of this play, the originality, the well-crafted scenes – with a scope so much larger than so many "issue" plays' brought to life 'an imperfect, fascinating, stalwart character…who doesn’t yield her story to any of the people around her.'"
Time Is On Our Side by R. Eric Thomas. Premiered at Sympatico Theatre, Philadelphia. "Who gets to tell our stories? And why do they tell them? Those are some of the questions asked in Thomas' tale of podcasters who discover a hidden diary. The play features 'fantastic language,' and 'sharp wit' that 'could have become a sentimental mess at any moment but somehow always saved itself.'"
Visiting Edna by David Rabe. Premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago. "With 'extraordinarily constructed dialogues and monologues that are simultaneously wide-ranging and super specific,' Rabe’s play is primarily focused on a dying mother and her son but with characters including her TV…and Cancer itself. 'While aging and dying may be all around us in the theater, right now,' commented one panelist, 'I found this play particularly brave and honest and deep, without getting sentimental or trying to be existentially profound, about what it means to face death (both for mother and son). I can’t shake this play. And I don’t want to.'"
The finalists were selected from eligible scripts recommended by ATCA members and evaluated by a committee of 17 ATCA members led by Lou Harry of the Indianapolis Business Journal/IBJ.com.
Awards will be presented on April 8, 2017, during the last weekend of Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays.