Wilder wins Osborn for `Gee’s Bend’

The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has announced that Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder is the winner of its 2008 M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award for an emerging playwright. The award was presented March 29 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky.

While the award is based in part on Wilder’s career, it focuses on her 2007 play, Gee’s Bend (seen at left in a 2006 Alabama Shakespeare Festival reading starring Cheri Lynn), which depicts the turbulent history of African Americans in the 20th century by focusing on a single family in the real community of Gee’s
Bend, Alabama. Although it is fiction, Wilder did on-the-ground research with the women of the town who earned national recognition through exhibits of the quilts made by several generations.

Wilder was told by quilter Mary Lee Bendolph, “Just write it honest.” Even in an early reading, the play moved Orlando Sentinel critic Elizabeth Maupin to write, “Gee’s Bend is a lovefest — between the characters and the land they live on, between the actors and the characters they’re portraying, between the play and the audience.”

Gee’s Bend was commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s Southern Writers Project. It had a 2006 reading in the Project’s Festival of New Plays and its fully-staged premiere in January, 2007 at the Alabama Shakespeare
. It has since toured the state and received productions elsewhere with more slated for 2008.

The Osborn award is designed to recognize the work of an author who has not yet achieved national stature – e.g., has not had a significant New York production, been staged in more than a few regional theaters or received other major national awards. Last year’s Osborn Award went to Ken LaZebnik, author of Vestibular Sense.

The Osborn Award was established in 1993 to honor the memory of Theatre Communications Group and American Theatre play editor M. Elizabeth Osborn. It carries a $1,000 prize, funded by the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association. Honorees are recognized in The Best Plays Theater Yearbook, the annual chronicle of United States edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, now in its
89th year. Making the selection from plays nominated by ATCA members is the ATCA New Plays Committee, which also selects honorees for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award.

Wilder recently returned to her native Mobile, Alabama from Los Angeles to concentrate on her playwriting. She has written The First Day of Hunting Season; Fresh Kills, performed in London; Jubilee; Tales of an Adolescent Fruit Fly, her first play, which was done at the Ergo Theatre Co.; and The Theory of Relativity. She is working on another commission for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, The Furniture of Home, and a play for the Denver Center, The Bone Orchard.

For more information, visit www.americantheatrecritics.org.

Prior Osborn Award Recipients

2007 Vestibular Sense, Ken LaZebnik, Mixed Blood Theatre Company, Minneapolis, MN
2006 American Fiesta, Steven Tomlinson, State Theatre Company, Austin, TX
2005 Madagascar, J.T. Rogers, Salt Lake Acting Co., Salt Lake City, UT
2004 The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, Rolin Jones, South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, CA
2003 The Dinosaur Within, John Walch, State Theatre, Austin, TX
2002 Chagrin Falls, Mia McCullough, Stage Left Theatre, Chicago, IL
2001 Waiting to be Invited, S.M. Shephard-Massat, Denver Center Theatre Company, Denver, CO
2000 Marked Tree, Coby Goss, Senachai Theatre, Chicago, IL
1999 Lamarck, Dan O’Brien, the Perishable Theatre Company, Providence, RI
1998 The Glory of Living, Rebecca Gilman.
1997 Thunder Knocking On The Door, Keith Glover.
1996 Beast on the Moon, Richard Kalinoski.
1995 Rush Limbaugh in Night School, Charlie Varon.
1994 Hurricane, Anne Galjour.

Moises Kaufman’s `33 Variations’ wins big award

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.