ATCA Names Steinberg Finalists


The American Theatre Critics Association names six finalists for the 2015 Steinberg/ATCA award; winners to be announced April 11.

by Mark Lowry
published Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Six plays have been named finalists for the 2015 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA award, which is given each year to a script that premiered in the previous year outside of New York City. The plays—by Nathan Alan Davis, Tom Coash, Rebecca Gilman, Lucas Hnath, Caitlin Parrish and Richard Strand—were selected from 27 scripts nominated by members of the American Theatre Critics Association. This year's Steinberg committee featured 18 critics, including TheaterJones founder and editor Mark Lowry.

One winner and two runners up will be announced in a ceremony on April 11 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. The M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, given to an emerging playwright, will also be awarded there.

Below is the complete press release from the American Theatre Critics Association, with more info on the plays, the prizes, the panel and other ATCA awards.

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 2014.

The top award of $25,000 and two citations of $7,500 each, plus commemorative plaques, will be presented April 11 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. At $40,000, Steinberg/ATCA is the largest national new play award program of its kind.

In 1977, ATCA began to honor 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. Since 2000, the award has been generously funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.

The finalists, alphabetically by play:

Butler, by Richard Strand— What starts as a droll comedy of words evolves into a fascinating retelling of a true incident that undermined a century of government-sanctioned slavery. Strand depicts the prickly interaction between a contentious but brilliant escaped slave and a taciturn lawyer recently appointed as a Union Army major general. Amid wry comedic interplay between the protagonists and with an ever-closing life-or-death deadline approaching, the title character finds an ingenious way to turn the official view of slaves as property into a legal way of giving sanctuary and eventually providing freedom to thousands of runaways. The play received its world premiere at the New Jersey Repertory Company in June 2014.

The Christians, by Lucas Hnath — The audience is thrust into a Sunday morning service in a well-heeled church with an affable, charismatic pastor. But the preacher suddenly advocates a profound departure from dogma, causing a huge rift in the congregation. This even-handed, compelling and theatrical work investigates belief on a personal and theological level. It asks deep moral and spiritual questions about doctrine, faith and belief without condescension and with verve and skill. The work debuted last spring at Actors Playhouse of Louisville through the Humana Festival from the author of a Steinberg citation recipient last year for Death Tax.

Dontrell, Who Kissed The Sea, by Nathan Alan Davis — This powerful, metaphoric and poetic drama traces one young man's odyssey in present day Baltimore to palpably connect with his roots by embracing a heroic ancestor who preferred to die drowning in the Atlantic Ocean than arrive in America as a slave. Simultaneously grounded in modern day America, yet gloriously lyrical and theatrical, it mixed the sacred and mundane. The work was formally unveiled as part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere Program in a co-production at the Skylight Theatre Company and Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble in Los Angeles after a developmental production at the DC Source Theater Festival.

The Downpour, by Caitlin Parrish— Described by some judges as a character study in the guise of a Hitchcockian suspense thriller, The Downpour is a disturbing and well-crafted tale of two sisters scarred by abuse as children. Now adults, they deal differently with the imminent birth of a child. But allegiances, assumptions and expectations turn inside out more than once to make the audience question shallow snap judgments as Parrish confronts unspeakable sorrow without any effort to sugar-coat anything. It had it first outing in September at Route 66 Theatre Company in Chicago.

Luna Gale, by Rebecca Gilman — A social worker with a crushing caseload and personal baggage faces a Gordian Knot: leave a child with neglectful meth heads parents or a place her with a grandmother who is a religious zealot. This complex and disturbing work is a heart-breaking high-stakes tragedy both relevant and timeless, what one judge called “a pure adrenaline rush.” The play does not provide easy answers for the lifelong after-effects of abuse and how people struggle to fill the resulting holes in their lives with religion, drugs and public service. Its first production was in January 2014 at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

Veils, by Tom Coash — A unique look at the differences and similarities between America and the Middle East as viewed in the clashing sensibilities of women’s rights and traditional roles in both civilizations. Two young Muslim women attending the American Egyptian University in Cairo just before the anarchic Arab Spring in 2010 are complex three-dimensional characters, since the American is the more traditional of the two and the Egyptian is enamored of western pop culture. But both are searching for sustaining definitions of how they should lead their lives in order to honor both their faith and their integrity in the world. Its premiere was held in February 2014 at Portland Stage in Maine.

Read more: Steinberg/ATCA AWARD Nominee!

hollywood revealedby Peter Foldy

The Skylight Theatre Company first heard Nathan Alan Davis' play, DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA read last season and set out to launch it in Los Angeles during the celebration of Black History Month.

Last year, The National New Play Network, an alliance of non-profit theaters that champions the development and continued life of new plays, announced that Davis' play had been chosen to receive their support for a 2015 rolling world premiere.

It premieres at the Skylight Theatre in Los Angeles on February 20th before moving to the Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis, IN; Theater Alliance in Washington, DC; the Cleveland Public Theatre; and finally the Oregon Contemporary Theatre.

"Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea" is being co-produced by Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, whose founders were equally stunned by the beauty of the language and the importance of the play's theme...yearning for lost knowledge of ancestral truths. Dontrell's journey has the makings of a classic adventure. It's a tale that resonates for our time.

Playwright Nathan Alan Davis says he is "compelled by transcendence. By our ability to reframe, re-imagine and re-define the world as we move through it." Indeed a refreshing new young perspective in Hollywood...and beyond. Influenced by Hip-Hop and the spirit that animates it, Davis is a writer of mixed race. The African Diaspora and the Western tradition are both essential parts of his identity. He works for "an ever advancing, united world civilization."
We had a chance to discuss his work recently:

Hollywood Revealed: Was "Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea" inspired by your personal journey of self-discovery and ancestral history?

Nathan Alan Davis: Yes and no. In many ways it was inspired by what I do not know about my ancestral history. The play is a dream, a fantasy, a hope, a prayer. It is a fable that I believe the world needs.

HR: What was your mindset when you began work on this play, and did you start with an outline or was it more of a streaming of consciousness?

NAD: I started working on it in the spring of 2012. The idea snuck up on me and the story formed kind of gradually. I don't have a clear recollection of a single moment that sparked it.

Read more: “Dontrell" Brings a New Perspective to Hollywood


I wrote Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea because it is the hero story that I need to see.

My mother and father instilled in me the vision of race unity and of the potential of a united civilization (even if it will take generations to accomplish). Honoring our ancestors is an essential part of that. Facing the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade strikes me as both necessary and impossible—thus, Dontrell takes on a necessary and impossible quest to retrieve a distant ancestor from the deep. This play is my response to the internal conflict of being Black in America from the standpoint legacy. It is colored by my experience as a person of mixed race in a society obsessed with dichotomy. It is inspired by the poets, mystics, seers and Prophets of all ages.

Nathan Alan Davis (playwright)