The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has selected Michael Cristofer’s Man in the Ring, the true story of a boxer who killed another man in a bout, as the winner of the 2016 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award. This award, which recognizes playwrights for scripts that premiered professionally during the preceding year outside of New York, is the top prize for a national new play. It carries with it a $25,000 monetary prize.
Two other playwrights – Tracy Letts and David Rabe – were also awarded citations for their works. Lett’s Mary Page Marlowe and Rabe’s Visiting Edna, which both enjoyed premieres at Steppenwolf in Chicago, netted each playwright a $7,500 award.
The awards were presented in ceremonies in Louisville on April 8 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Lou Harry, the chair of the committee of theatre critics, and William Hirschman, the chair of the executive committee of ATCA, made the presentations.
“The playwright threads through guilt and tragedy, weaving past and present together seamlessly,” said one of the 27 panelists who selected Man in the Ring. Another panelist said the play stayed “within the playwright’s total control while allowing for the frayed edges that make it feel alive and not premeditated.”
Each of the members of the committee recommended a script for a regional world premiere, which were then read and evaluated by the other members.
ATCA has honored new plays produced regionally since 1977. New York theaters are excluded due to the plethora of other awards recognizing work there. The award has been funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust for the past 17 years.
Previous honorees include Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Donald Margulies, Lynn Nottage, Moises Kaufman and Craig Lucas. Last year’s honoree was Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone, which moved to New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club following its world premiere in Costa Mesa, California in 2015.
Founded in 1974, ATCA is the only national association of professional theatre critics and works to raise critical standards and public awareness of critics’ functions and responsibilities. Its members work in print, on radio and television and on websites. ATCA is also affiliated with the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.
ATCA also administers the $10,000 Francesca Primus Prize, funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, honoring contributions to the American theater by female artists who have not yet achieved national prominence, and it awards the Osborn Award to an emerging playwright. Annually, ATCA makes a recommendation for the Regional Theater Tony Award presented by the American Theatre Wing/Broadway League and votes on inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.