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Seattle Claims Yussef El Guindi as he wins Top Playwriting Award for 2012!

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Shanga Parker and Carol Roscoe in Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World (photo by Chris Bennion)

The American Theatre Critics Association has named Yussef El Guindi’s Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, a play about immigration and assimilation, winner of the $25,000 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for 2012. The Steinberg/ATCA recognizes the best American scripts that premiered professionally the previous year outside New York City.

Pilgrims was developed in the Northwest, as a special workshop at Icicle Creek Theatre Festival in 2010, partly sponsored by ACT Theatre, and then chosen as a main stage production for 2011 at ACT.

It is a gentle romantic comedy wrapped around a serious examination of issues facing immigrants today. An Egyptian immigrant who drives a cab strikes up a romance with a quirky American-born waitress, but the clash of cultures threatens to tear apart the budding romance as both tradition and secrets get in the way. Musa, in particular, has more baggage and advisors who try to keep him tied to his Egyptian ways, while Sheri represents the “new” in the New World, and a lack of history, tradition or boundaries. Their struggle is easy for us to identify with, while we learn about Musa’s particular cultural ones and his desires about his future in his new country.

Born in Egypt, raised in London and now based in Seattle, El Guindi received a B.A. from American University in Cairo and a 1985 MFA in playwriting from Carnegie-Mellon University. His writings frequently examine the collision of ethnicities, cultures and politics that face Arab-Americans. He has had at least 16 plays produced since 2001 in regional theaters from Durham to Anchorage. At the same time, he has worked as resident playwright at Silk Road Theatre Project; literary manager for Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco; playwright in residence, dramaturg and lecturer at Duke University; and dramaturg for Eureka Theatre and reader for The Magic Theatre, both in San Francisco.

Two other prizes were awarded along with the grand prize. Ken LaZebnik’s On the Spectrum and A. Rey Pamatmat’s Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them received Steinberg/ATCA citations and $7,500 each. Both LaZebnik and Pamatmat are first-time new play award winners, while El Guindi won ATCA’s 2009 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award for an emerging playwright.

Checks and commemorative plaques were presented to all three at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays, March 31.

The award was created by ATCA in 1977 to recognize excellence in playwriting by honoring the best new plays not yet produced in New York City. Since 2000, it has been generously funded by The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, making the $40,000 Steinberg/ATCA the largest national new play award of its kind.

LaZebnik’s On the Spectrum depicts a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome passing as “typical” after years of mainstreaming and therapy. He connects with a woman who proudly champions her autism as a difference, not a disorder. Their love story reveals the contradictions between the desire for acceptance and for achievement. Among the choices: live in a fantastic world of the mind or join the more mundane society that typecasts you as your illness. The work premiered November 12 at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.

A. Rey Pamatmat’s Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them was first produced in a Rolling World Premiere by Actor’s Theatre of Louisville/Humana Festival of New Plays, New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida, and Actor’s Express in Atlanta. This moving, bittersweet play portrays a very untraditional family of three young misfits: a brilliant 16-year-old and his precocious 12-year-old sister, abandoned by their widowed father, and the brother’s lover who runs from a family denying his nascent homosexuality. Their fanciful bonding against the challenges of the real world, their resilience and their realization of their limitations result in a meaningful comic drama infused with empathy and wry humor.

The 2012 Steinberg/ATCA award recipients were selected from 27 eligible scripts, submitted by ATCA members, by a committee of 12 theater critics led by chairman Wm. F. Hirschman, FloridaTheaterOnStage.com. Other committee members are Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Bruce Burgun, Bloomington Herald Times and Back Stage; Michael Elkin, Jewish Exponent (Pa.); Pam Harbaugh, Florida Today (Melbourne); Elizabeth Keill, Independent Press (Morristown, N.J.); Jerry Kraft, aislesay.com (Port Angeles, Wash.) ; Julius “Jay” Novick, freelancer (New York City); Wendy Parker, The Village Mill (Midlothian, Va.); David Sheward, Back Stage (New York); Herb Simpson, totaltheater.com and capitalcriticscircle.com (Geneseo, NY); and Tim Treanor, DC Theater Scene (Washington, D.C.). For more information on ATCA, visit www.americantheatrecritics.org.