Moises Kaufman’s `33 Variations’ wins big award

Mar 30

The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has selected Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations to receive the 2008 Harold and Mimi Steinberg /American Theatre
Critics Association New Play Award
. The announcement was made Saturday, March 29 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. The award includes a commemorative plaque and a cash prize of $25,000 – currently the largest national playwriting award. Deborah Zoe Laufer’s End Days and Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone also received citations and $7,500 each. Ruhl previously received a Steinberg/ATCA citation in 2005; Kaufman and Laufer are first time honorees.

“The long-standing partnership between the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust and the American Theatre Critics Association has recognized some of today’s greatest writers, and helped identify the great playwrights of tomorrow,” said trustee Jim Steinberg. “We’re delighted to help support the unique telling of tales on the American stage.”

The Steinberg/ATCA Award was started in 1977 to honor new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City, where there are many new play awards. No play is eligible if it has gone on to a New York production within the award year (in this case, 2007).

Kaufman’s 33 Variations debuted in September at Washington’s Arena Stage. It offers a fictional imagining of Beethoven’s creation of 33 brilliant variations on a prosaic waltz. The composer’s 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.

Laufer’s End Days premiered in October at Florida Stage in Manalapan. Sometimes comic, sometimes moving, it 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 them before the rapture arrives — on Wednesday.

Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone made its bow 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.

These three were among six finalists selected from 28 eligible scripts submitted by ATCA members. They were evaluated by a committee of 12 theater critics, led by chairman Wm. F. Hirschman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and vice-chair George Hatza of the Reading (Pa.) Eagle. Other committee members are Michael Elkin, Jewish Exponent (Pennsylvania); Wendy Parker, The Village Mill (Virginia); Michael Sander, Back Stage (Minnesota); Herb Simpson, City Newspaper (Rochester, NY); Chad Jones, formerly of the Oakland (Cal.) Tribune; Jay Handelman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; Ellen Fagg, The Salt Lake Tribune; Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Pam Harbaugh, Florida Today; and Elizabeth Keill, Independent Press (Morristown, NJ).

“The amazing range of work — dramas, fantasies, musicals, farces, melodramas — was uplifting confirmation that theater remains a vital and evolving art form that can speak to every generation,” Hirschman said.

Since the inception of ATCA’s New Play Award in 1977, honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Jane Martin, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Lee Blessing, Lynn Nottage, Horton Foote and Craig Lucas. Last year’s honoree was Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Hunter Gatherers.

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 to support new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theater.

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