On Monday the American Theatre Critics Association, of which I'm a member and past chair, announced the winner of its 2010 M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award: Jason Wells for his play Perfect Mendacity, presented in May 2009 at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla.
The annual recognition also honors an "emerging playwright," an author who hasn't yet achieved national stature. The 2008 Osborn went to E. M. Lewis for Gee's Bend, a show that will be presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park next season. Past winners have included Chagrin Falls by Mia McCullough (the 2002 award winner was presented locally by Cincinnati Shakespeare and won that year's Cincinnati Entertainment Award for outstanding play) and Thunder Knocking on the Door by Keith Glover (1997, presented by the Cincinnati Playhouse in 1999).
Wells' Perfect Mendacity seemingly focuses on a business executive trying to avoid implication in a lie detector investigation into the leak of a damaging memo. But this look at intrigue, duplicity and self-deception in the corporate world resonates for audiences and individuals well beyond that world.
Wells is a Chicago-based actor with numerous stage, film and television credits. He has broadened his contributions to writing. Perfect Mendacity was originally commissioned by the Manhattan Theatre Club and developed during Steppenwolf Theatre's fourth annual "First Look Workshop" prior to its premiere in Sarasota a year ago.
The 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 theater now in its 90th year. Perfect Mendacity is one of six finalists for this year's Steinberg/American Theatre Critics New Play Prize, to be announced at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville this weekend. Jason Wells will be there to receive his Osborn Award on Saturday evening — and I'll be cheering for him.
His play sounds like one that could be a good choice locally for Know Theatre or Ensemble Theater of Cincinnati.