Obie Awards honor 'English' as best new play

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Obie Awards honor 'English' as best new play
From left, Tala Ashe, Hadi Tabbal, Marjan Neshat, Ava Lalezarzadeh and Pooya Mohseni in the play “English” at the Atlantic Theater Company in new York on Feb. 11, 2022. The Obie Awards, back on track after a lengthy pandemic hiatus, are naming “English,” an acclaimed comedic drama set in an Iranian test-prep classroom, the best new American play staged Off Broadway over a two-year period. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

by Michael Paulson

NEW YORK, NY.- The Obie Awards, back on track after a lengthy pandemic hiatus, are naming “English,” an acclaimed comedic drama set in an Iranian test-prep classroom, the best new American play staged off-Broadway over a two-year period.

The play, written by Iranian American playwright Sanaz Toossi, depicts four students, each at different stages of life and with different motivations, struggling to master English well enough to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language. The play was staged in New York early last year as a coproduction of the Atlantic and Roundabout theater companies. In The New York Times, critic Jesse Green wrote, “Both contemplative and comic, it nails every opportunity for big laughs as its English-learning characters struggle with accents and idioms. But the laughter provides cover for the deeper idea that their struggle is not just linguistic.”

Strong reviews have led to subsequent productions that are currently running in Washington and Toronto; another production is scheduled to begin performances next month in Berkeley, California.

The Obie Awards, founded by the Village Voice and now presented by the American Theater Wing, honor theater staged off- and off-off-Broadway. This year’s ceremony will be held Monday night at Terminal 5 and will recognize work presented in person or online between July 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2022. The Wing decided to announce the award recipients in advance to allow the evening to focus on a celebration of theater’s resilience. Acceptance speeches are being posted on the Wing’s YouTube channel.

The Obies, by tradition, do not have established categories; instead, the judges each year give out awards as they see fit. This year the judging panel, headed by director David Mendizábal and critic Melissa Rose Bernardo, is giving 37 awards.

Among the winners: Martyna Majok, already a Pulitzer winner for “Cost of Living,” is being granted an Obie for playwriting in recognition of “Sanctuary City,” an immigration drama. Presented by New York Theater Workshop, the show got through a week of previews before being forced to close by the pandemic and then resumed performances 18 months later.

Performance awards will go to Stephanie Berry and Lizan Mitchell for “On Sugarland” at New York Theater Workshop; Brittany Bradford for “Wedding Band” at Theater for a New Audience; Kara Young for “Twelfth Night” at the Classical Theater of Harlem; and Arturo Luís Soria for “Ni Mi Madre” at Rattlestick Theater. Also, sustained achievement in performance awards will be given to Billy Eugene Jones for “Fat Ham” at the Public Theater and “On Sugarland”; and to Andrea Patterson for “Cullud Wattah” at the Public, “Confederates” at Signature Theater and “Seize the King” at the Classical Theater of Harlem.

The Obies are bestowing multiple special citations, including for members of the teams that created “English” and “Fat Ham” as well as “Oratorio for Living Things” at Ars Nova; a musical adaptation of “As You Like It” for Free Shakespeare in the Park; “The Nosebleed” at Lincoln Center Theater and the Japan Society; and a trio of digital, virtual or hybrid productions: “Circle Jerk,” “Russian Troll Farm” and “Taxilandia.” Also getting citations: comedian Alex Edelman, for “Just for Us”; playwright Richard Nelson, for his series of 12 plays set in Rhinebeck; and costume designer Qween Jean, for work on seven shows.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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