Six finalists announced for $40,000 2014 Steinberg-ATCA Award

Six finalists announced for $40,000 2014 Steinberg-ATCA Award

For immediate release: Feb. 27, 2014

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 2013.

At $40,000, Steinberg/ATCA is the largest national new play award of its kind. The top award of $25,000 and two citations of $7,500 each, plus commemorative plaques, will be presented April 5 at Actors Theatre of Louisville, during the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Since 1977, ATCA has honored 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. Last year’s winner, Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way, opens on Broadway this spring.

Since 2000, the award has been generously funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. This year’s finalists, alphabetically by playwright:

Fear Up Harsh, by Christopher Demos-Brown – The secret backstory behind the awarding of a Congressional Medal of Honor to a wounded Marine emerges in this mercilessly penetrating interrogation about how our need for heroes — a need even among the heroes themselves – can trump the very values of truth, honor and loyalty that they fought to preserve. The play received its world premiere at Zoetic Stage in Miami in November.

I and You, by Lauren Gunderson – Caroline, a cranky high school student in desperate need of a liver transplant, is enticed by classmate Anthony, a level-headed basketball star with a taste for English lit, into a school project deconstructing Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. As their quirky relationship evolves in fits and starts, they explore the meaning of life and death without a shred of condescension or pretentiousness. Delicate, smart and funny with sharp insights, the play grows quietly toward a surprising and overwhelmingly moving conclusion. It premiered in October at Marin Theatre Company as part of the National New Play Network’s rolling world premiere program.

Smokefall, by Noah Haidle  — This delightfully offbeat play embraces inventive theatricality and a poetic lyricism to depict three generations of a Midwestern family as they move through time. It combines a compassionate examination of familial unhappiness and the fragility of life with zany humor, such as twin fetuses arguing in their mother’s womb. The work bowed last spring as a co-production of South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif., and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

H20, by Jane Martin – Fast and smart and fresh in its intersection of transitory showbiz and enduring faith, this drama depicts a deeply troubled flavor-of-the-month movie idol who is slated to play Hamlet on stage in New York. He woos a talented unknown actress to be his Ophelia after she foils his suicide attempt. Her profound faith in Christianity collides with his dark view of the world as she tries to save his production, his life and his soul in a play that is both terribly funny and deeply moving at almost the same moment. Directed by Jon Jory, the play premiered at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia in July.

Stupid F**king Bird, by Aaron Posner – Unlike almost anything else seen this season, this script was praised as “funny, wonderful, original, smart with a capital S, consistently imaginative but thoroughly grounded.” On the surface, it’s simply a modern retelling of Chekhov’s The Seagull that catches all the humor and wistfulness of the original and the inner reality of a great play. But Posner has transmuted the story, “wrapping new words and ideas around old concepts,” using form-bending theatricality to create a fresh sui generis work of art. The play premiered last year at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington D.C.

Seven Spots on the Sun, by Martin Zimmerman — This meld of magical realism and political issues is an affecting tale that examines whether forgiveness is truly possible, set against the ravages of civil war, lust, plague and a consuming need for vengeance. A widowed doctor in a small village and a newly-married soldier charged with subduing dissent take converging journeys towards redemption in this harrowing play that was unveiled at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in October.  

Wm. F. Hirschman, chair of ATCA’s New Play Committee, says this year’s entries validate the future of a vibrant 21st Century theater that mirrors today’s issues as almost never before. “Far from disconnected and elitist, the plays reflect themes and settings encompassing bullying, racism, sexual identity in a repressive society, a street-level view of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and genocidal civil war. Some works completely re-invent established 20th Century works like The Crucible, The Seagull and The Heiress for a new century and a new audience. They reference how technology is creating previously unimagined ethical questions and ask tough questions about how the economic downturn has challenged what people thought were their unshakeable values. Refuting concerns about theater as a relevant and popularly embraced art form, the stunning array and high quality of scripts we read confirm the enduring commitment of regional theaters and a dazzling diversity of playwrights to be the primary standard-bearers for new works.”

Jonathan Abarbanel, Chair of the ATCA Executive Committee, observes, “Even though theatre critics don’t always give playwrights good news, this awards program has been central to ATCA’s activities for nearly 40 years. We recognize that theatre begins with words on a page, and no one but the playwright is there when the page is empty. We are deeply grateful for the continuing support of the Steinberg Trust and for the opportunity to present the award each year at the Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays.”

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, Lynn Nottage, Moises Kaufman and Craig Lucas. For a full list of all winners and runners-up, go to and click on Steinberg-ATCA under Awards.

These six finalists were selected from 28 eligible scripts submitted by ATCA members. They were evaluated by a committee of 19 theater critics, led by chairman Hirschman, Other committee members are Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Bruce Burgun, freelance (Bloomington, Ind.); Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times (Madison, Wisc.); Mark Cofta, Philadelphia City Paper; Pam Harbaugh, Florida Today (Melbourne); Lou Harry, Indianapolis Business Journal/; Michael P. Howley,; Erin Keane, Louisville Public Media; Jerry Kraft, (Port Angeles, Wash.); Elizabeth Maupin, Orlando; Julius Novick, veteran critic and professor (New York City); Kathryn Osenlund, CurtainUp, Phindie (Philadelphia); Wendy Parker (Midlothian, Va); Nelson Pressley, Washington Post; David Sheward,,,; Herb Simpson, and (Geneseo, N.Y.), Steve Treacy, Port Townsend (Wash.) Leader, and Tim Treanor, DC Theater Scene (Washington, D.C.).

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 raise critical standards and public awareness of critics’ functions and responsibilities. The only national association of professional theater critics, with several hundred members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and websites, ATCA is affiliated with the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

ATCA also presents the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, honoring emerging playwrights.  It also administers the $10,000 Francesca Primus Prize, funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, honoring outstanding contributions to the American theater by female artists who have not yet achieved national prominence. Annually, ATCA makes a recommendation for the Regional Theater Tony Award presented by the American Theatre Wing/Broadway League and votes on inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.

For more information on ATCA, visit For more information on the Steinberg/ATCA Award, contact Wm. F. Hirschman, chair of the ATCA New Play Committee, at or 954-478-1123; Jonathan Abarbanel, ATCA Executive Committee chair, at; or Christopher Rawson, ATCA communications chair, at or 412-216-1944.

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