Primus Prize Finalists Announced

ATCA Administers the Award

By: - Jul 15, 2020

How do we cope ahead in the aftermath of large-scale violence?

A group of plays answer that question in ways that make the pieces stand out, said the chairwoman of a committee that recognizes the outstanding work of emerging female playwrights.

From 2019, Ripe Frenzy, Benevolence, and The Madres are finalists for The Francesca Primus Prize. The honor’s namesake was a playwright, dramaturg, and theater critic. She died of cancer in 1992.

The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) administers the honor. ATCA has been adjudicating the Primus Prize since 2002. Now that ATCA has selected three finalists, from 21 submissions, the organization will announce the winner in early August. The award carries a $10,000 honorarium given through the Primus Foundation.

Jennifer Barclay penned Ripe Frenzy. Meanwhile,  Ifa Bayeza wrote Benevolence, and Stephanie Alison Walker created The Madres.

“The finalists this year are notable not just for the strength of their writing, but for the way each of their plays, in different ways, address the question of how we go on in the aftermath of great violence,” said Primus Committee Chairwoman Kerry Reid. She is the theater and dance editor of the Chicago Reader.  Reid continued: “Bayeza and Walker’s plays both use a historical lens in examining violence as a tool of racial and political oppression — the killing of Emmett Till in the case of the former and the military junta’s “dirty war” in Argentina in Walker’s case.

“Barclay uses the all-too-familiar story of a school shooting to examine how we respond to mass killings. “But despite the grim underpinnings, I think all three plays are also remarkable for the great empathy they bring while shining a light in these dark corners.”

Ripe Frenzy takes place “in a small town whose high school is famous for doing more productions of Our Town than any school ever.” The piece “re-imagines Wilder’s play as the framework and background for a school shooting, told from the viewpoint of the mothers of the town.” The piece experienced its rolling world premiere at three theaters. Specifically, they are Boston’s New Repertory Theatre, Atlanta’s Synchronicity Theatre, and Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Benevolence is the second play in a trilogy about Emmett Till’s 1955 lynching. The first piece was 2008’s The Ballad of Emmett Till. Benevolence looks at the broader events surrounding Till’s murder. For instance, the play focuses on a white couple responsible for Till’s death. In addition, the work concentrates on a Black couple wrestling with coming forward as witnesses. Benevolence premiered with Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minn.

In The Madres, Walker takes us back to 1978 and Argentina’s “dirty war.” In particular, the play zooms in on the “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.” Their protests against Argentina’s repressive and murderous military dictatorship raised the world’s consciousness about activists who “disappeared.” The play experienced a rolling world premiere at Chicago’s Teatro Vista, Skylight Theatre Company in Los Angeles, MOXIE Theatre in San Diego, and Shrewd Productions in Austin, Texas.

Together with Reid, the Primus committee comprises critics Marianne Evett, Eva Heinemann, Michael Howley, Wendy Rosenfield, Nicole Serratore, and Catey Sullivan.

ATCA, the only national association of professional theater critics, has existed since 1974. The organization works to raise standards and public awareness about the functions and responsibilities of theater critics. ATCA comprises more than 200 members working in print, broadcast, and online media. The organization is a chapter of the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

In addition to the The Francesca Primus Prize, ATCA presents the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, honoring emerging playwrights. In addition, the organization administers the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award. It grants $40,000 annually to recognize the best plays that premiered professionally outside New York City. Also, ATCA members recommend an annual candidate for the Tony Award for Regional Theatre. Also, ATCA members vote on the yearly inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.

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