WASHINGTON, D.C.: Theater J has announced the inaugural winners of two new play prizes aimed at recognizing new plays that celebrate, explore, and/or struggle with the complexities and nuances of the Jewish experience. Joshua Harmon’s Prayer for the French Republic has been awarded the Theater J Trish Vradenburg Jewish Play Prize, and Nicole Cox’s Abomination has been awarded the Theater J Patty Abramson Jewish Play Prize. The Vrandenburg Prize comes with a $15,000 award and the Abramson Prize includes $3,000 and a stage reading.
The Vradenburg Prize, awarded to an established playwright, is dedicated to the memory of philanthropist, playwright, and Alzheimer’s research advocate Trish Vradenburg, who served on Theater J’s council for 13 years. For this inaugural year, 47 plays were submitted and were adjudicated by Theater J staff. Finalists for the prize were A Model City by Brooke Berman, and Picture of a House in Shaker Heights by David Grimm. Harmon’s winning play, Prayer for the French Republic, was commissioned by Manhattan Theatre Club, and is a reflection and exploration of the history of trauma and prejudice within five generations of one Jewish family.
“As the artistic director of a Jewish theatre company, it is rare for me to read a play that transforms my understanding of what it is to be Jewish in America today,” said Theater J’s Adam Immerwahr in a statement. “Set in France, Prayer for the French Republic is about being Jewish, being American, and being part of a tribe. It’s moving, powerful, and one of the most exquisite new plays I’ve read in many years. A writer of stage and screen, Trish Vradenburg was one of the funniest people I have ever met—I know she would have seen in Harmon a kindred spirit, seeking to illuminate the shadows of our world with humor and joy.”
Added Harmon in a statement: “When I first began working on this play more than five years ago, my curiosity about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe led me to want to write a play about what was happening over there; I could not have anticipated, when I first set out, the extent to which we would soon be grappling with those same wrenching questions over here. I am grateful to Theater J and the committee which chose my play to receive this honor, and eagerly anticipate the moment when we can once again gather, in person, to experience a story together in a theatre.”
The Abramson Prize, awarded to an emerging woman, trans, or non-binary playwright in recognition of a new play, is dedicated to the memory of philanthropist and venture capitalist Patty Abramson. For its inaugural year, 85 plays were submitted and were read by more than 40 members of the Theater J community, including artists, council members, and staff. The winner and two finalists were chose by a committee made up of philanthropist Michele Berman, director Johanna Gruenhut, Theater J managing director Jojo Ruf, and director and Abramson’s stepdaughter Leigh Silverman. Finalists were Belfast Kind, by Margot Connolly, and Grains of Wheat, by Abigail Weaver.
Cox’s winning play, Abomination, explores identity, faith, and belonging through a small group of queer yeshiva graduates who go to court to hold a conversion therapy organization accountable for its years of abuse. The play will receive a workshop this December.
“What an honor to win the inaugural Patty Abramson prize,” said Cox in a statement. “It’s thrilling to be included in her huge circle of influence, and I’m deeply grateful to Theater J for recognizing and supporting my play.”
Joshua Harmon’s plays include Bad Jews (Roundabout Underground; Roundabout/Laura Pels; West End), Significant Other (Roundabout; Broadway/Booth Theatre), Admissions (Lincoln Center Theater; West End), and Skintight (Roundabout). His plays have been produced across the country including at the Magic, Geffen Playhouse, Studio Theatre, Theater Wit, Speakeasy, and Actor’s Express, and internationally in Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, and throughout the U.K. He is a two-time MacDowell Colony Fellow and under commission at Manhattan Theatre Club and Roundabout, where he is an Associate Artist. Education: Juilliard.
Nicole Cox is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Her play Office of the Speaker won Best Drama at Capital Fringe 2019, and her poem “I Want Lou Reed” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s had productions and readings at the 1-Minute Play Festival, Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage, and Citizens Play Festival. Paula Vogel and Dan O’Brien invited Nicole to workshop her play, All Other Nights, at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her work is published in literary magazines including American Book Review, Tablet Magazine, Split Lip, Electric Literature, Briar Cliff Review, and Hanging Loose. Nicole earned her MFA from Emerson College.
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