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Steinberg Nominees

March 11, 2008

Last week, the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) named six finalists in its annual playwriting competition, the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award. The top prize is worth $25,000, the largest prize for a national playwriting award. Previous honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Lee Blessing, Lynn Nottage, Horton Foote and Craig Lucas. The finalists were selected from 28 eligible scripts submitted by ATCA members. As the competition requires, none had productions in New York City in 2007. They were evaluated by a committee of 12 theatre critics from around the U.S.

I was extremely excited to hear that local luminary Peter Sinn Nachtrieb won first prize last year for his savage, dementedly brilliant play, Hunter Gatherers, which Killing My Lobster premiered in 2006 at Thick House in San Francisco.

I don't have much to say about this year's nominees except for the fact that I'm nonplussed to see Rebecca Gilman's The Crowd You're In With on the list. A couple of other critics in San Francisco called the play, which received its premiere in a production directed by Amy Glazer at The Magic Theatre, Chekhovian. In my own review of the work for SF Weekly last November, I said, "I'm struggling to see the connection between Gilman's bland little drama and masterpieces like The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya, and Three Sisters beyond the fact that it, like many of Chekhov's plays, takes place in a domestic setting and concerns the hang-ups of a bunch of white, middle-class individuals. The resemblance, as far as I can tell, stops there." I personally wouldn't nominate Gilman's Crowd for our local Glickman best new play prize, let alone a national award like the Steinberg.

Anyway, here is the shortlist of finalists:

The Crowd You're in With by Rebecca Gilman, debuted at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco in November. The play examines three couples at a backyard barbeque who reveal vastly different attitudes toward having children in the 21st century.

Dead Man's Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl, bowed at Washington D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in June. The quirky comedy examines the fallout when a lonely woman takes the cell phone from the body of dead man she discovers sitting next to her in a café and begins answering his calls.

End Days by Deborah Zoe Laufer, premiered in October at Florida Stage in Manalapan. Sometimes comic, sometimes moving, the play studies the challenge of maintaining faith in a world dominated by science and fear. A Jewish family copes with the aftermath of 9/11 as the mother, now a born-again Christian, tries to convert the family before the rapture arrives -- on Wednesday.

The English Channel, by Robert Brustein, debuted in September at Suffolk University and then the Vineyard Playhouse on Martha's Vineyard. The noted critic and founder of the American Repertory Theatre penned a droll comedy centering on creativity, inspiration and plagiarism, in which the young Shakespeare, the ghost of Marlowe and the Dark Lady of the Sonnets collide in a tavern.

Strike-Slip by Naomi Iizuka, opened last spring at the Humana Festival. The playwright presents a cinematic look at the interconnected nature of seemingly disconnected lives in the diverse, multi-cultural Los Angeles basin. One judge praised it as a 21st Century O. Henry story.

33 Variations by Moises Kaufman, debuted in September at Washington's Arena Stage. Kaufman offers a fictional imagining of Beethoven's creation of 33 brilliant variations on a prosaic waltz. His obsessive pursuit of perfection parallels a modern tale of a terminally-ill musicologist struggling with her own obsession to unearth the source of Beethoven's.

The winners will be announced at a March 29, 2008 ceremony at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Ky.

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