The biennial prize is named in honor of the late playwright, whose work includes “The Young Man From Atlanta” and “The Trip to Bountiful.” In an interview with Variety, Suh said he is an admirer of Foote’s work and believes that the themes that the playwright explored are particularly resonant in the COVID-19 era.
“Horton Foote wrote about resilience, endurance, and fortitude,” said Suh. “He wrote about the profound effect of simple acts of kindness. I want to live up to this honor. For me that means that I need to remember and emulate the kindness and quiet dignity that Foote stood for.”
When Suh was just out of graduate school he had an opportunity to sit in and observe Foote during rehearsals for a play that was being performed at Ensemble Studio Theatre.
“His generosity and enthusiasm left a big impression on me,” said Suh.
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“The Chinese Lady” follows Afong Moy, who was brought to the United States in 1834 at the age of 14 from Beijing, and put on display for the American public as a member of a sideshow. In a rave review in the New York Times, Laura Collins-Hughes wrote “…by the end of Mr. Suh’s extraordinary play, we look at Afong and see whole centuries of American history. She’s no longer the Chinese lady. She is us.”
Suh will be honored at a private online reception on Sept. 13 and will be presented with $50,000 and a limited edition of Keith Carter’s iconic photograph of Foote, which is found in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Suh said he is grateful for the financial support at a time when the theater industry has been hit hard by coronavirus-related closures.
“I’ve worked almost exclusively in small and mid-sized theaters,” said Suh. “I worry about their sustainability. I hope they will find the nimbleness and flexibility and the resources to withstand this.”
Over 70 theaters throughout the country were invited to submit a produced or un-produced play for consideration. “The Chinese Lady” was nominated for the Horton Foote Prize by Ma-Yi Theater Company (New York). After a national reading committee narrowed the field, ensuring that each script received multiple blind readings, a selection committee selected the top finalists to be presented to the judges. The four judges of the 2020 Horton Foote Prize are award-winning actor, and daughter of Horton Foote, Hallie Foote, serving as chair; Playwrights Horizons artistic director Adam Greenfield; Baltimore Center Stage artistic director Stephanie Ybarra; and award-winning playwright and director Chay Yew.
The Horton Foote Prize is funded by the Greg and Mari Marchbanks Family Foundation of Austin, Texas. Suh’s works include “Charles Francis Chan Jr.’s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery,” “American Hwangap,” and “Franklinland.”