ATCA Names 2019 Steinberg/ATCA Finalists
Tuesday, March 5, 2019 at 1:45PM
Chris Rawson

The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has selected six finalists for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, recognizing playwrights for the best scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2018.

The top award of $25,000 and two citations of $7,500 each, plus commemorative plaques, will be presented April 6 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. At $40,000, Steinberg/ATCA is the largest national new play award program of its kind.

In 1977, ATCA began to honor new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City, where there are many awards. 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 2018 finalists, listed below alphabetically by play (including comments from the judging panel) are:

Birthday Candles [Noah Haidle] “somehow bakes up the simple and the cosmic into a profound experience.” “There’s nothing particularly distinctive about Ernestine or anyone in her family, but they’re treated with such grace and respect that their remarkable qualities (which is of course to say, everyone’s remarkable qualities) come through.” “I started to feel a tear form on page 64, when she speaks to her granddaughter so simply and eloquently,” and even with a cake baked on stage in real time, this is “far from a gimmick play. It’s a beautiful one that walks a fine line that stays specific while occupying the universal.”  “Birthday Candles” had its world premiere at Detroit Public Theatre.

Cambodian Rock Band [Lauren Yee] offers “a very involving story about war, selfishness, atrocity, betrayal, revenge, retribution, and guilt-laden survival.” “The notion of exploring the Cambodian holocaust through contemporary investigation, past survivor memories, and rock and roll is absolutely inspired, and to execute it with such unexpected humor and supple time shifts is a real accomplishment.” “It’s refreshing to see a playwright move so deftly between three eras. The transitions felt seamless.” “This play felt at once fresh and deeply grounded in history. “Cambodian Rock Band” had its world premiere at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, California.

Downstate [Bruce Norris] provides “a real contribution to the American conversation about an important topic which often confounds honest give and take.” Woven into a rich, subtly complex plot, his characters are sex offenders, “but Norris doesn’t preach. He asks us to read between the lines. He asks us to think. And, yes, he also asks us to see the men who have committed these reprehensible acts as human. Not as forgiven, but human nonetheless.” “It’s extraordinary…and brave.”Downstate” had its world premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

Lettie [Boo Killebrew] struck one panelist as “absolutely authentic in its understanding of the fault lines that make reentry fiendishly difficult for parolees and family members alike.” “I never got the feeling that the author was ticking off boxes (drug past, check; retraining problems, check; housing obstacles, check) but she got it right nevertheless: the pathology that sends someone into the school-to-prison pipeline, and that keeps them from getting out and staying out. “Lettie” not only calls attention to it but brings it alive with such humanity and dramatic tension, makes it notable.” “It’s still all too rare to read credible American plays about the contemporary American working class. This is one of them.” “Lettie” had its world premiere at Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago.

Plainclothes [Spenser Davis] tells “a small scale story of work life behind security cameras” yet is a “wonder of language play and dialogue excellence.” “It considers racial issues in today’s uncertain workplace and incorporates great heart. It’s not just a playwright’s polemic.” “With terrific energy, distinctive characters, lots of humor, and something to say about race and class and corporate benign neglect” “weaving together an entertaining scenario while also gut punching the audience with real world consequences.” “Plainclothes” had its world premiere at Broken Nose Theatre in Chicago.

Witch [Jen Silverman] is “a beautifully balanced play, offering succession and inheritance issues, a silver-tongued Devil, and a gutsy unpopular woman with a great head on her shoulders. The idea of an apprentice devil makes this beguiling, a sort of “It’s a Terrible life” in Frank Capra terms.” “I’ve never seen a ‘deal with the devil’ concept blow away my expectations the way this one did.” “Simple, but so intriguing.” “Plus a strong fight scene.” “And Morris dancing.” “Witch” had its world premiere at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois.

These six finalists were selected from eligible scripts recommended by ATCA members from around the country. They were evaluated by a committee of sixteen theater critics, led by Lou Harry of louharry.com and the Lou Harry Gets Real podcast. Other participating committee members included Nancy Bishop (Chicago, IL), Lindsay Christians (Madison, WI), Mike Fischer (Milwaukee, WI), Amanda Finn (Chicago, IL), Melissa Hall (Indianapolis, IN), Pam Harbaugh (Indialantic, FL), Mark Lowry (Dallas, TX), Jonathan Mandell (New York, NY), Julius Novick (New York City), Marjorie Oberlander (New York, NY), Kathryn Osenlund (Philadelphia, PA), Wendy Parker (Midlothian, VA), Wendy Rosenfield (Philadelphia, PA), Martha Wade Steketee (New York, NY), and Perry Tannenbaum (Charlotte, NC).

“Short of having an unlimited travel account, there’s no better way to get a sense of the vibrancy of theater across America than serving on the Steinberg judging panel,” said committee chair Lou Harry. “Once again, the wealth of offerings prompted fierce, thoughtful debate leading not only to a set of deserving honorees, but also to a renewed hope for the future of American theater. Thanks to the Steinbergs, these plays will have extra light shining on them.”

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, Moises Kaufman, Craig Lucas, and Robert Schenkkan. Last year’s honoree was “The Book of Will” by Lauren Gunderson.

Click here for a full list of all of our winners and runners-up.

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.

Article originally appeared on American Theatre Critics Association (http://americantheatrecritics.org/).
See website for complete article licensing information.