Critics Being Positive and Rewarding

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I was in Louisville over the weekend for the Humana Festival of New American Plays, which means I had another opportunity (my 13th, in fact) to witness the recognition of outstanding plays by the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) March 27 from the stage of the Pamela Brown Auditorium at Actors Theatre.

The evening's first recognition went to Jason Wells for ATCA's M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, which I wrote about last week. After a few serious grateful remarks, he singled out his wife for supporting him in the typically thankless task of playwriting and noted that he'd won all of $1,000 for his play Perfect Mendacity. It was a tongue-in-cheek comment, of course, and ATCA Chair Christopher Rawson joked that this is money extracted from the dues of members — in other words, from critics across the United States (including me).

ATCA gives out bigger dollars for another set of awards, thanks to the Mimi and Harold Steinberg Trust. The annual Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Awards presents citations worth $7,500 each to two playwrights and then a really big prize to the winner: a check for $25,000, one of the richest awards in the world of American theater. This year's winner is Bill Cain, for his play Equivocation, a fantasy that blends comedy and drama. King James’ ruthless prime minister commissions Shakespeare’s company to write and perform the official (and highly suspect) government account of Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot. Shakespeare becomes increasingly skeptical, forced to weigh the relationship of art to government and artists’ personal responsibility to truth. The show was premiered a year ago at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and is just completing a New York run at the Manhattan Theater Club.

In a conversation at a reception after the awards, Cain told me that he was hurrying back to California (he just flew to Louisville for the award program) to sit in on previews of Equivocation at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, Calif., where it's being directed by Jasson Minadakis. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Minadakis was one of the founders of Cincinnati Shakespeare and served as its ambitious artistic director through 2002. He left Cincinnati for a theater in Atlanta, and he's been in the Bay Area since 2006.

The citation winners for this year are Donald Margulies for his play Time Stands Still and Karen Zacarias for Legacy of Light. Find more background on the awards winners and on ACTA here.

Later this week look for my coverage of shows at the 2010 Humana Festival.

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