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Award Winners

By Rick Pender · April 29th, 2009 · Curtain Call
Earlier in April the 2009 Pulitzer Prizes were announced, including recognition “for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.” This year’s winner is Lynn Nottage’s Ruined, a horrific tale of wartime rape and brutality set in the Congo that nevertheless manages to affirm life and hope amid hopelessness. (Her 2007 play Intimate Apparel, pictured, had its local premiere at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati.) Nottage earned $10,000 from the Pulitzer committee, a lot of dough for any playwright.

Pulitzer finalists get no cash, but the recognition is certainly valuable. Becky Shaw, a jarring comedy by Gina Gionfriddo that debuted a year ago at the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the Broadway musical In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, each picked up that secondary honor. The Pulitzer is a big deal, but it’s not the most valuable award for new plays. In fact, when the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) hands out the annual Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, it’s much more generous, thanks to the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.

E. M. Lewis’s Song of Extinction earned $25,000, while two “citations,” worth $7,500 each, went to Lee Blessing’s Great Falls and Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts.

Steinberg/ATCA awards often differ from the Pulitzer because they honor plays that debut at regional theaters outside New York City. Lewis’ Song of Extinction, first staged by Moving Arts in Hollywood, is about a gifted high school student having problems unnoticed by everyone but a sensitive teacher. It begins as an examination of disparate contemporary issues then morphs into a dreamscape of interconnected themes.

The 2009 ATCA/Steinberg citations singled out two established playwrights. Letts’ Superior Donuts, about the resurrection of a one-time radical from the ’60s now running a Chicago donut shop, premiered last summer at Steppenwolf Theatre, while Blessing’s Great Falls, a wry drama about a stepfather and his angry stepdaughter on a road trip, debuted at the 2008 Humana Festival.

Letts’ August: Osage County earned last year’s Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for best play. Blessing’s long and successful career includes award-winning plays like A Walk in the Woods and A Body of Water, plus numerous scripts that Cincinnatians have enjoyed at Ensemble Theatre — Cobb, Lake Street Extension and Going to St. Ives).

ATCA is often ahead of the curve in identifying new talent, thanks to its long-standing M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, which singles out the work of playwrights who have not yet achieved national stature. The 2009 recipient is Egyptian-born Yussef El Guindi. His play Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat premiered a year ago at the Silk Road Theatre Project in Chicago. It’s about Arab and Muslim activists and America’s stereotypical perceptions of them.

None of these works are yet slated for Cincinnati stages, but it’s a good guess we’ll be seeing them in the next year or two.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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