Finalists Named for New Play Award

ATCA Annually Administers Honor

By: - May 07, 2021

Five play finalists are in the running for a national prize which a theater critics group awards annually. Specifically, the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has narrowed down to five its list of potential winners of the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award. The honor recognizes playwrights for the best scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during the previous year. In this case, that year is 2020.

ATCA New Play Committee chairman Lou Harry said theater companies staged top quality work before the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Rather than take a year off or combine years, I’m thrilled that ATCA and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust agreed that outstanding work that made it to the stage in the first three months of 2020 should be honored in an uncompromised way,” Harry said.

Virtually, ATCA will present the top award of $25,000 and two citations of $7,500 each, plus commemorative plaques. However, ATCA has not finalized a date. At $40,000, Steinberg/ATCA is the largest national new play award program of its kind.

In 1977, ATCA began honoring new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City. There, theater artists are eligible for many awards. No play is eligible for Steinberg/ATCA if it received a New York production within the award year. Since 2000, the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust has funded the award.

Below are the 2020 finalists, listed alphabetically by play. In addition, you’ll read comments from the judging panel.

  • Graveyard Shift by Korde Arrington Tuttle. In the piece, the worlds of an Illinois couple and a small-town police officer collide. Critics remarked: “Here’s a play that’s true to our moment: It stares the ugliness in the face, while challenging us to move beyond easy, virtue-signaling posturing. Also, “the writing is gorgeous, the dialogue is real, and the cross cutting is deftly handled. Graveyard Shift premiered at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
  • Her Honor, Jane Byrne by J. Nicole Brooks. In 1981, Chicago’s first woman mayor moves into the Cabrini-Green public housing project. Critics commented: “Brooks brings this chapter of history to al, vivid life.” The play “toggles so deftly between personal and political tragedy’ while “every angle gets an airing, but not in a way that makes the reader feel like she’s ticking off boxes.” As for the dialogue, it is “smart, fast, and very Chicago.” Her Honor, Jayne Byrne premiered at Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago.
  • The Leopard Play or sad songs for lost boys by Isaac Gomez. After a decade away, a young man returns to his U.S./Mexico border home to find the truth behind his uncle’s death. Critics remarked: “Powerful in so many ways.” The play is “sincere, searching, and contains a critique of deeply toxic machismo and how it can poison a family.” The Leopard Play premiered at Steep Theatre in Chicago.
  • Ship by Douglas Williams. A young woman returns from rehab to her Mystic, Connecticut hometown. There, the most coveted job is seaport tour guide. And the most interesting person is a classmate who attempted a world record for longest fingernails. Critics remarked: “Finding that balance of quirkiness and believable humanity can be difficult. The playwright pulls it off here in a “funny and poignant story about two stuck young people.” Ship premiered at Azuka Theatre in Philadelphia.
  • Verboten by Brett Neveu (book) and Jason Narducy (music and lyrics). In 1983, a band of teens channel their homelife frustrations into punk music. Critics commented: “The characters are real and engaging. The dialogue and lyrics are funny and honest” and “the music is great, too.” Verboten premiered at The House Theatre in Chicago.

The critics selected these finalists from eligible scripts that ATCA members from around the country recommended and a committee of theater journalists evaluated. Lou Harry (Indianapolis, Ind., led the effort. Other participating committee members included Misha Berson (Seattle, Wash.), Nancy Bishop (Chicago, Ill.), Evans Donnell (Nashville, Tenn.), Amanda Finn (Chicago, Ill.), Mike Fischer (Milwaukee, Wis.), Melissa Hall (Indianapolis, Ind.), Susan Haubenstock (Richmond, Va.), Ed Huyck (Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.), Cameron Kelsall (Philadelphia, Pa.), Elizabeth Kramer (Louisville, Ky.), Wendy Parker (Midlothian, Va.), Martha Wade Steketee (New York, N.Y.), Doug Strassler (New York, N.Y.), Karen Topham (Chicago, Ill.), and Bob Verini (Boston, Mass.).

Since the ATCA New Play Award’s inception, honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Moises Kaufman, Craig Lucas, Robert Schenkkan, Lauren Yee, Lauren Gunderson, and Qui Nguyen.

Last year’s honoree was How the Light Gets In by E.M. Lewis. The piece is a romantic comedy (of sorts). It concerns four lonely people who find each other when one of them falls apart.

Go to for a full list of all winners and runners-up.