Cori Thomas has won ATCA’s 2011 M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award for an emerging playwright. The award recognizes Thomas’ When January Feels Like Summer, which premiered in March 2010 at City Theatre in Pittsburgh. The Osborn Award recognizes the work of an author who has not yet achieved national stature – e.g., has not had a significant New York production or been staged widely in regional theaters. Last year’s award went to Jason Wells for Perfect Mendacity; previous winners included Rebecca Gilman and Keith Glover. The 2011 award will be presented April 2 at the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville.
The City Theatre premiere of When January Feels Like Summer was directed by Chuck Patterson and supported in part by the Edgerton Foundation fund for new American plays. (Here’s a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review of that premiere.) It was originally read at City’s 2008 Momentum Festival and was further developed in part at the 2008 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab.
Upon hearing of the award, playwright Thomas said, “This was my first professional production, so to receive this recognition is a feeling you cannot really describe. It was so rewarding to work at City Theatre after having been at Momentum. I’m thrilled.”
City artistic director Tracy Brigden said, “Cori Thomas is one of the most exciting new writers on the American theater scene today. All of us at City Theatre are so proud to have produced the world premiere of this glorious play.”
The street-smart When January Feels Like Summer is a comic and touching tale of love, sex, redemption and the survival of the American Dream in the 21st century, amid the struggle with the polar attractions of identity and assimilation. Thomas stirs together a diverse group of urban dwellers on an atypically warm winter month: a middle-aged African American sanitation worker, an East Indian shopkeeper whose husband from a loveless marriage is in a coma, her brother in the midst of a transgender transformation, and two bright homeboys trying to understand everything from global warming to meeting girls. All are on a quest for the healing power of true love, a mythic journey presided over by the Hindu god Ganesh, lord of the removal of obstacles.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review of the premiere called the play “a tale of redemption that goes right to the heart of the American promise of renewal. … We learn that the exotic is normal, or perhaps vice versa. Sweet without being sugary, [it] turns out to be about the mysterious varieties of love.”
Thomas was born in New York to a Liberian diplomat and a Brazilian mother, but lived in seven countries before returning to the United States to attend school. She studied theater at Marymount Manhattan College. A lifetime member of the acting/writing ensemble of the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City, her plays include: His Daddy; Pa’s Hat: Liberian Legacy ; our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor, and My Secret Language of Wishes. She has been a finalist for a Juilliard Fellowship and the National Playwrights Conference at the O’Neill Festival, and was nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. She recently received a commission from South Coast Repertory Theatre and The Sloan Foundation.
The Osborn Award was established in 1993 to honor the memory of Theatre Communications Group and American Theatre play editor M. Elizabeth Osborn. It carries a $1,000 prize, funded by the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association. Honorees are recognized in The Best Plays Theater Yearbook, edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, the annual chronicle of United States theater. Making the selection from plays nominated by ATCA members is the ATCA New Plays Committee, chaired by Wm. F. Hirschman of the South Florida Theater Review.
In addition to Hirschman, the ATCA committee is made up of 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, Fla.); Leonard Jacobs, The Clyde Fitch Report; Elizabeth Keill, Independent Press (Morristown, N.J.); Elizabeth Maupin, Elizabeth Maupin on Theater (Orlando, Fla.); Wendy Parker, The Village Mill (Midlothian, Va.); David Sheward, Back Stage (New York); Herb Simpson, City Newspaper (Rochester, N.Y.) and Tim Treanor, DC Theater Scene (Washington, D.C.)