Stephen Adly Guirgis was honored Monday night with the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award, also known as the Mimi award, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center.
Attendees in a packed, lively theater were treated to four performances from a variety of Guirgis’ plays, which included a monologue performed by Elizabeth Rodriguez from “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” in addition to a scene from “The Motherf—ker with the Hat,” performed by Yul Vazquez and Felix Solis, actors Kevin Corrigan and Ellen Burstyn reading from “The Little Flower Out of East Orange,” and an as-yet untitled play about boxing, with a side-splitting yet life-affirming scene performed by Stephen McKinley Henderson, Ron Cephas Jones and Neil Tyrone Pritchard.
In his acceptance speech, Guirgis thanked his sister for presenting him with his first pair of theater tickets when he was a college student to see Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” starring John Malkovich, which made him want to become a playwright.
The Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award is presented biannually to a playwright whose work has made a significant contribution to American culture. The largest financial award in the theater, the recipient receives $200,000. “It gives you the freedom to write,” said Guirgis. “And it’s also an affirmation to keep writing, and I’m going to write as much as I can. I’m revising a play, and working on a new play, a boxing play, and then I have a couple of other things in the subconscious, and this is going to give me the opportunity to wait it out a little.”
“What’s unique about (Guirgis) is he writes about the people that in many ways Americans forget about, and he writes about them with compassion, and I think he believes that nobody is unredeemable,” said Neil Pepe, a.d. at the Atlantic Theater Company and a member of the Playwright Awards Advisory Committee. “His ability to bravely write the truth about them, but also move you and make you laugh in a way that nobody else does makes him one of our master playwrights.”
Guirgis’ most recent play, “Between Riverside and Crazy,” just finished a run at the Atlantic Theater Company and will open at Second Stage Theater in 2015.
(Pictured: John Leguizamo and Stephen Adly Guirgis at the Steinberg Playwright Awards)