I'm in Louisville for the weekend, attending the 32nd annual Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre. As part of this annual celebration of new work, the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) — of which I am a member — announces its annual Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, which offers significant cash prizes to three playwrights. The announcement is part of a festive Saturday evening that includes the presentation of several 10-minute plays and a big party at which actors, directors, playwrights and critics mingle, drink and graze on buffets of cheese, meatballs and more until the wee hours of the morning.
This year's winner — and recipient of a $25,000 cash prize (considerably more than the annual Pulitzer Prize for drama — is Moises Kaufman's 33 Variations. Plays eligible for consideration must have been produced during 2007 by regional theaters outside of New York City, which has a wealth of new play awards. They are suggested by members of ATCA and screened by a committee of a dozen ATCA critics from across the United States. Kaufman's play debuted in September at Washington's Arena Stage. It offers a fictional imagining of Beethoven's creation of 33 brilliant variations on a prosaic waltz. The composer's obsessive pursuit of perfection parallels a modern tale of a terminally ill musicologist struggling with her own obsession to unearth the source of Beethoven's.
Kaufman is the playwright of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde (presented by the Cincinnati Playhouse in 1998) and led the team of writers from the Tectonic Project who created The Laramie Project, a script based on interviews about the gay-bashing death of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998.