playwrights, critics and scenes

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Cover Image design by Mark Lerner with photo from "Song of Extinction" by EM Lewis (image 2011 by Michal Daniel). ISBN 978-1-4768-6878-3
Mark Lerner cover design with scene from  “Song of Extinction” by EM Lewis (image by Michal Daniel). ISBN 978-1-4768-6878-3

Visions of playwrights and critics can inspire images of dramatic scenes. Colleagues from Chicago tell a story about a certain critic arriving at the lobby of a show and being clocked by playwright unhappy with a negative production review. A colleague in Philadelphia tells of being publicly berated in an area theatre by a similarly unhappy theatremaker. Today I write of another kind of scene inspired by the often bedazzling, frequently sobering, all-too-often histrionic, always instructive world of the live theatre that critics and playwrights have in common. Yes, critics view the results of a playwright’s labors, and endeavor to feel and think with them as part of the live audience. And yes, playwrights sometimes respect, sometimes loathe, sometimes merely tolerate the critics who publicly share their reactions to what they see on stage. Now Applause Theatre & Cinema Books in its Applause Acting Series has teamed up with representatives of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) to present scenes and monologues assembled from finalists in the annual Steinberg/ATCA New Play Awards between 2008 and 2012. The playwright winners — nominated by ATCA members for particular plays that received their premiere productions in locations other than New York City in the year prior to the award — receive cash. Scenes and Monologues from Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award Finalists, 2008-2012, edited by Bruce Burgun, conspires to promote the work of the finalists through publishing selections from exciting new works that reached the final stages of the award decision-making.

This 2013 volume is rewarding for general theatre lovers as well as aspiring and working theatre-makers for auditions, scene work, and rich examples of characters’ language in usefully sorted categories (male scenes, female scenes, mixed gender scenes).  This can serve as a vivid introduction to the core of the work of fabulous playwrights ranging from Sharr White (here represented by a scene from Annapurna, represented on Broadway last year by The Other Place and currently by The Wild Geese) to Tracy Letts (much-awarded as playwright for August: Osage County and as actor this past season for his turn as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and represented in this volume by Superior Donuts) to the prolific Lee Blessing (Great Falls) and Donald Margulies (Time Stands Still). Women are present in significant numbers, including Rebecca Gilman (The Crowd You’re in With) and Lisa D’Amour (Detroit) and Sarah Ruhl (Dead Man’s Cell Phone) and E.M. Lewis (Song of Extinction) and Quiara Alegría Hudes (Water by the Spoonful) and Karen Zacarias (Legacy of Light) and the fabulous collaborative team of Caitin Montanye Parrish and Erica Weiss (A Twist of Water).

There are riches here and depths of language worth plumbing. A beautifully executed concept building on a long tradition of such publications. Here, theatre critics continue to award and support the enterprise of new play development. It’s a wondrous collaboration.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 3, 2013)

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