Lauren Gunderson’s “The Book of Will” wins 2018 Steinberg/ATCA Award
The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has selected Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will as the recipient of the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, recognizing playwrights for scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2017.
Gunderson’s insightful and wry meditation on preserving artists’ legacy after their death, in this case Shakespeare, received the top award of $25,000 and a commemorative plaque during the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville on April 7. The Book of Will had its world premiere at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
Two citations that carry $7,500 each were presented to Molly Smith Metzler’s Cry It Out and Ike Holter’s The Wolf at the End of the Block, which had their world premieres respectively at the Humana Festival and by Teatro Vista at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater.
A play about the efforts of Shakespeare’s contemporaries to preserve his words after his death, The Book of Will “fires on all cylinders” according to one of the judges. Said others, it “wrestles with big questions: Why we create and how we deal with death? What constitutes a legacy? And how a surpassing love for something bigger can make every sacrifice worth it.” It’s “all the more impressive given that we know how the story will end.” “And it’s funny — genuinely funny — in a way that feels contemporary and yet not cynical.”
Cry It Out by Metzler focuses on the bonds and barriers between two new mothers across a backyard and across class differences. According to panel members, it is “heartbreakingly original in wrestling with issues of female friendship and class and privilege while still being a story about two people one quickly feels strongly about.” “Their challenges come across as very real and accessible without being trivialized.”
The Wolf at the End of the Blockby Holter is, according to one panelist, “a play I can’t get out of my head, from one of the most exciting emerging voices in American theater.” It “melds gorgeous, often comedic dialogue into a very dark reality” in “a play that matters.” Centered on a beating outside of a Chicago bar, it’s “honest about how flawed the would-be heroes of the piece are — refreshing, given the amount of paint-by-numbers agitprop out there right now.”
At the presentations, the theaters that produced the world premieres were also honored with commemorative plaques.
Other finalists for the Steinberg/ATCA Award were Linda Vista and The Minutes, both by Tracy Letts, and Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith.
The six finalists were selected from eligible scripts recommended by ATCA members from around the country. They were evaluated by a committee of theater critics, led by Lou Harry, who has written for theatrecriticism.com, The Sondheim Review, and many other publications.
“Once again, the panel has bowled me over with its rigorous and passionate debate,” said Harry, “and once again playwrights and theaters from around the country have supplied us with plays worthy of those fierce discussions. Together, these six plays speak well of the American theatre today. Individually, they speak to the excitement and originality of some of our finest playwrights.”
Other committee members are:
Misha Berson, Seattle Times (Seattle, WA)
Bruce Burgun, The New Orleans Advocate (New Orleans, LA.)
Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times (Madison, WI)
Amanda Finn, Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI)
Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, (Milwaukee, WI)
Pam Harbaugh, floridatheatreonstage.com (Indialantic, FL)
Erin Keane, Salon (Louisville, KY)
Mark Lowry, theaterjones.com, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Dallas, TX)
Jonathan Mandell, newyorktheater.me (New York, NY)
Julius Novick, freelance (New York City, NY)
Marjorie Oberlander, freelance (New York City, NY)
Kathryn Osenlund, freelance (Philadelphia, PA)
Wendy Parker, freelance (Midlothian, VA)
Wendy Rosenfield, broadstreetreview.com (Philadelphia, PA)
David Sheward, artsinny.com, theaterlife.com (Jackson Heights, NY)
Martha Wade Steketee, freelance (New York, NY)
Perry Tannenbaum, Creative Loafing, (Charlotte, NC)
Bob Verini, Variety (Boston, MA)
In 1977, ATCA began to honor new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City, where there are many awards. Since 2000, the award has been generously funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. At $40,000, Steinberg/ATCA is the largest national new play award program recognizing regional theaters as the crucible for new plays in the United States.
Since its inception, ATCA’s New Play Award honorees have included Moisés Kaufman, Adrienne Kennedy, Craig Lucas, Donald Margulies, Arthur Miller, Marsha Norman, Robert Schenkkan, August Wilson, Lanford Wilson, and Mac Wellman. Last year’s honoree was Man in the Ring by Michael Cristofer.
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 public awareness of the role of theatre critics and to raise critical standards within the profession. It is the only national association of professional theater critics, with over two hundred members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, and websites. ATCA is a section of the International Association of Theatre Critics/Association internationale des critiques de théâtre (AICT-IATC), a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.
Other playwriting awards presented by ATCA include:
* The M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, honoring emerging playwrights, adjudicated by the same ATCA committee. The 2018 award, previously announced, went to Chelsea Marcantel for Airness, which premiered at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival.
* The Francesca Primus Prize, bestowing an annual $10,000 award funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, to honor outstanding contributions to the American theatre by female artists who have not yet achieved national prominence. The 2016 award (presented in 20117) was to Lauren Yee for her play, in a word. The 2017 award (to be presented in 2018) is still seeking nominations and is adjudicated by a separate ATCA committee chaired by Barbara Bannon of Salt Lake City, Utah.
ATCA also makes an annual recommendation to the American Theatre Wing and Broadway League for their Regional Theatre Tony Award and votes on the yearly inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.
Read about the six finalists here.