Susan Blackburn Nominees – “THIS”

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize – the prestigious international award given each year to a woman who has written an outstanding new work for the English-speaking theatre – has announced the 10 finalists for the 32nd annual award. Chosen from a field of 90 plays nominated by a select list of professional theatres worldwide, the 2010 finalists are the following:

“The Aliens” by Annie Baker (U.S.)
“The Language Archive” by Julia Cho (U.S.)
“This” by Melissa James Gibson (U.S.)
“it felt empty when the heart went at first but it is alright now.” by Lucy
Kirkwood (U.K.)
“The Shipment” by Young Jean Lee (U.S.)
“The Nature of Love” by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (U.K.)
“East of Berlin” by Hannah Moscovitch (Canada)
“The Swallowing Dark” by Lizzie Nunnery (U.K.)
“Enron” by Lucy Prebble (U.K.)
“Strandline” by Abbie Spallen (Ireland)

The 2010 Blackburn Prize will be marked with a ceremony in New York in early March, honoring all finalists. The winner will be awarded $20,000, and will also receive a signed and numbered print by renowned artist Willem De Kooning, created especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. A Special Commendation of $5,000 may be given at the discretion of the judges, and each of the other finalists receives $1,000.

The international panel of six judges for the 32nd annual Susan Smith Blackburn Prize includes three from the U.K. and three from the U.S.: celebrated American stage and film actress Hope Davis, Tony-award winning director Doug Hughes; Mark Lawson, BBC Radio host and critic; Todd London, artistic director of New Dramatists (New York); British stage director Indhu Rubasingham: and renowned star of British theatre, Fiona Shaw.

Established in 1978, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the first international award created to recognize women playwrights, and remains the most important award of its kind. The Prize reflects the values and interests of Susan Smith Blackburn, noted American actress and writer who lived in London during the last 15 years of her life. She died in 1977 at the age of 42, and her sister, Emilie Kilgore, and husband, William Blackburn, established the award in her honor.

Over the past three decades, the Blackburn Prize has been awarded to such celebrated playwrights as Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Caryl Churchill, Gina Gionfriddo, Beth Henley, Wendy Kesselman, Marlene Meyer, Ellen McLaughlin, Susan Miller, Chloe Moss, Dael Orlandersmith, Sarah Ruhl, Judith Thompson, Paula Vogel, Naomi Wallace, and Timberlake Wertenbaker.

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has anticipated later recognition. Since the inception of the Blackburn Prize, seven women have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and in every case they have first been honored by the Blackburn.

Over 300 plays have been selected as finalists since the prize began; over 60 of those plays are regularly produced in the U.S. alone.

Ms. Norman recently referred to the Blackburn Prize and its importance to women playwrights and the entire Theatre World in her widely-discussed feature about the paucity or productions of plays by women in the November 2009 issue of American Theatre Magazine.

Each year artistic directors and prominent professionals in the theatre throughout the English-speaking world are invited to nominate plays. In addition to the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland, new plays have been submitted from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. Each script is read by a minimum of three members of an international reading committee that then
selects 10 finalists. The finalists’ plays are read and considered by all six judges in determining the winner.

A theatrical “Who’s Who” of judges has adjudicated the Blackburn Prize through the years: Edward Albee, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Billington, Eileen Atkins, Blair Brown, Zoe Caldwell, Glenn Close, Harold Clurman, Colleen Dewhurst, Ralph Fiennes, John Guare, A.R. Gurney, Mel Gussow, Christopher Hampton, Tony Kushner, John Lahr, Joan Plowright, Corin Redgrave, Diana Rigg, Max Stafford-Clark, Tom Stoppard, Meryl Streep, Jessica Tandy, Paula Vogel, Sigourney Weaver, and August Wilson, among nearly 200 artists in the U.S., England and Ireland.

For further information about The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, visit http://www.blackburnprize.org

Finalist Playwright Bios:

THIS Among the year’s best

JNicholsonHeadShot (1)http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/theater/reviews/20isherwood.html

THIS Playwrights Horizons

But then Melissa James Gibson, the author of this tart, melancholy comedy about a group of close friends entering the choppy waters of middle age, has such boundless affection for language that even the drabbest constellations of vowels and consonants — words like “this,” in other words — are made to soar and leap like ballet dancers in full, ecstatic flight, or alternately stand alone in a sea of silence, ominous and resonant, like those pregnant pauses in a Pinter play.Its confused but lovable characters are drawn with a fine focus and a piercing emotional depth; the dialogue sparkles with exchanges as truthful as they are clever; and as directed by Daniel Aukin, Ms. Gibson’s longtime collaborator, and performed by a flawless cast, the play’s delicate pace, richly patterned wordplay and undercurrent of rue combine to cast a moving spell that lingers in the memory, like a sad-sweet pop song whose chorus you can’t shake. This is entirely appropriate for a play about how we process love, hurt and loss by concocting tidy stories to recall our experience, or reshape it — and sometimes to frame a happier future too.“This” begins with a silly party game that Jane (Julianne Nicholson), a teacher and poet, is reluctant to play. Her married friends Tom (Darren Pettie) and Marrell (Eisa Davis), with a newborn in the next room, are determined to show her a good time. Actually they are just as eager for fun themselves, since the baby’s arrival — and the boy’s inability to sleep for more than 15 minutes at a time — has strained their relationship to the point that the water level in the Brita jug in the refrigerator becomes a flashpoint of irritation. The acerbic, gay Alan (Glenn Fitzgerald), another friend they’ve all known since their now-distant college days, is more interested in rooting through the cupboards to find a last bottle of wine, but he’s game too.The rules are easy enough: The central player leaves the room and then tries to recreate a story the others have concocted in his or her absence by asking a series of yes-no questions. Unwilling to be a spoilsport, particularly in front of the handsome French doctor, Jean-Pierre (Louis Cancelmi), who has obviously been invited as a potential man for her, Jane agrees to play.But the game is not precisely as it is described to Jane, and when she begins trying to ferret out the story, the narrative that emerges begins scraping a little too close to the bone. It appears to be something about a recently widowed woman involved with another couple. Jane lost her husband just a year before, and takes natural offense. The party fizzles awkwardly, as Jane shuffles home to her 9-year-old daughter, Maude.When Tom shows up at her door to apologize the next day, Jane is still antsy and awkward, qualities rendered with lucent sensitivity by Ms. Nicholson, who has the shell-shocked air of someone who’s just staggered out of bed after a sleepless night. “I’m just tired of, ‘I’m sorry,’ in general, in life,” she says. “It’s all I’ve heard for the past year, I’m cranky.” (Of course she can’t resist adding, “I’m sorry.”) Remorse will become Jane’s obsession, the waking nightmare she moves through like a sleepwalker, after she and Tom engage in a bout of impulsive sex that turns the vague story from the party into a sort of fateful prophecy.Tales of midlife adultery are an everyday staple of contemporary theater — and of contemporary life, I suppose. But Ms. Gibson’s is drawn with a scintillating verbal humor, honesty and a keen compassion that upends conventions and avoids the predictable at every turn. Dogging all the play’s characters, with the exception of the suave, self-confident Jean-Pierre, is the disquieting sense that the rules of life have been changed midway through the game, and they are now sitting with a less promising set of cards than they started out with. Doubt and remorse, both the honorable and the useless kind, plague everyone. Tom’s attraction to Jane is an expression of his frustration about his disappointing career as a woodworker, while his withdrawal from Marrell sets her wondering too, about why she’s soWhat I can’t tell is if we’re unhappy together, individually or both of the above,” she tells Jane, who is too embarrassed to offer any but vague and conflicting advice. “Adultery is not the answer,” Jane says feebly, all but quivering with mortification at her hypocrisy. “That sounds like a bumper sticker,” Marrell snaps. Alan, who is on a messy but earnest search for some way to remake his life (he is considering a sudden swerve into good works, or maybe adding a letter to his first name), seems to regret just about every decision he has or has not made. And given that he is gifted — or is it cursed? — with total recall of his experience (it’s a rare but actual condition, or superpower), the burden weighs him down with unusual heaviness, lifted only by frequent recourse to booze. Mr. Fitzgerald’s tense, closed-in performance cuts through any potential clichés in this mildly familiar character: the bitter, boozy, loveless gay best friend, ever ready with a wisecrack. And Ms. Gibson’s writing for him is full of aphorisms that hit home. “Why are you sitting in the almost dark?” asks Jane when she comes home to find the baby-sitting Alan drenched in shadow. “It’s the human condition, Jane, in case you haven’t noticed,” he replies briskly.