British playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s controversial “Behzti” (Dishonor) has been awarded the 27th Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, presented annually to an English-language play written by a woman.
Premiered late last year at England’s Birmingham Repertory Theater, “Behzti” depicts sexual abuse and murder in a Sikh temple in the story of a woman and her ailing mother confronted by a past trauma.
Violent protests caused a performance to be interrupted in December and the remainder of the run was canceled after death threats to the author.
Bhatti, a London-born Sikh, is a former actress and a writer on popular U.K. soaps “Crossroads” and “Eastenders.”
The early closing of the play sparked concern about freedom of expression in Britain’s arts community, resulting in an open letter in support of Bhatti, signed by 700 names, published in the Guardian.
The Blackburn award, which comes with $10,000, may help draw attention to the play and encourage subsequent international productions.
“I wholeheartedly stand by my work,” Bhatti said. “I hope bridges can be built, but whether this prodigal daughter can ever return home remains to be seen.”
The Blackburn judges awarded special commendations of $2,000 each to New York-based writer-performer Heather Raffo for “Nine Parts of Desire,” her solo show about the experiences of Iraqi and American women, which has extended its Off Broadway run a number of times; and to London playwright Chloe Moss’ “How Love Is Spelt,” a six-character play that depicts a 20-year-old woman given to fantasies and lies.
The nine other Blackburn finalists receive $1,000 apiece.
These include, from the U.S., Leslie Ayvazian’s “Rosemary and I,” Rebecca Gilman’s “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball,” Melanie Marnich’s “Cradle of Man,” Mia McCullough’s “Since Africa” and Patricia Wettig’s “My Andy.”
Other finalists were Joanna McClelland Glass’ “Trying” (Canada), Katherine Thomson’s “Harbour” from Australia and Brit entries Bryony Lavery’s “Last Easter” and Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s “The Night Season.”
This year’s Blackburn judges included actors Stockard Channing and Corin Redgrave, Philadelphia Theater Company producing a.d. Sara Garonzik, London’s Talawa Theater Company a.d. Paulette Randall, British theater journalist Carole Woddis and Daily Variety London legit correspondent Matt Wolf.