Louisville, Ky. — Actors Theatre of Louisville Artistic Director Les Waters and Managing Director Jennifer Bielstein announced today that playwright Lucas Hnath has won the prestigious Kesselring Prize for his critically-acclaimed play “The Christians.”
The jury for the 2015 Kesselring Prize consisted of playwright John Guare (“The House of Blue Leaves”), Anne Cattaneo (dramaturg at Lincoln Center Theater) and Lynn Nottage (“Ruined,” “Sweat,” recipient of a 2003 Kesselring Award). Michael Parva, Artistic Director of the Directors Company in New York, serves as artistic advisor of the Kesselring Prize.
Begun in 1980 by the National Arts Club, the Kesselring Prize – established by Charlotte Kesselring in memory of her husband and long-time NAC member Joseph Kesselring, author of the comedy classic “Arsenic and Old Lace” – honors a not-yet nationally-recognized playwright with an honorarium to support development of future work. Each year, up to 18 theatres are invited by the National Arts Club to nominate a play and playwright whose work they have produced. In addition to Actors Theatre, other theatres who nominated writers this year included South Coast Repertory, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Long Wharf, Steppenwolf, Vineyard, La Jolla, The Culture Project, Abingdon, Magic Theatre and Alliance Theater. Hnath joins a prestigious list of recipients of the Kesselring that includes Tony Kushner, Anna Deavere Smith, Nicky Silver, David Auburn, Melissa James Gibson and Rajiv Joseph.
“The Christians” is a big little play about faith in America. This emotional drama chronicles the aftermath of a pastor’s radical sermon in which he questions the church’s doctrine unilaterally changing the church’s current stance on a key article of faith and shaking the entire foundation of his congregation’s belief.
Commissioned by Actors Theatre and directed by Waters, “The Christians” received its world premiere at Actors Theatre during the 38th Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2014. The prize returns this year following a six-year hiatus and comes with a cash award of $10,000. Hnath will be honored at The Kesselring Prize Reception and Dinner on Nov. 22 at the National Arts Club in New York City. “The Christians” is currently making its New York debut Off-Broadway in a production directed by Waters.
Following an exuberant response from critics and audiences alike during its run in Louisville, “The Christians” has been enthusiastically received at theaters around the country in several subsequent productions. It recently received its U.K. premiere with productions at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland and at the Gate Theatre in London. Currently on stage at Playwrights Horizons in a production that reunites the cast and creative team from the play’s premiere, “The Christians” is scheduled to transfer to Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles this December.
“The Christians” marked the fourth collaboration between Actors Theatre and Hnath; Actors Theatre premiered his “Death Tax” in the 2012 Humana Festival; that play went on to receive a subsequent production at the Royal Court Theatre in London and was honored with a 2013 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award Citation. Actors also produced Hnath’s one-act play “nightnight” in the 2013 Humana Festival as part of the triptych “Sleep Rock Thy Brain,” and his ten-minute play “The Courtship of Anna Nicole Smith” in the 2010 Apprentice/Intern Tens. Hnath’s other plays include “Red Speedo” (Studio Theatre, Washington, D.C.), “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney” (Soho Rep) and “Isaac’s Eye” (Ensemble Studio Theatre).