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CANCELLED PLAY BEHZTI TRIUMPHS


The transatlantic theatrical world, at a private reception in London on March 7th, 2005, honoured BEHZTI ("Dishonour") as the best play in a distinguished list of Finalists for the annual Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which must be won by a woman and is now in its 27th Year. The winner, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, is a Sikh, born in London to Indian parents. The Prize was presented by one of the judges, Paulette Randall, Artistic Director of Talawa Theatre Company, London.

BEHZTI has already occupied recent front pages for its sensational cancellation amidst violent protests from the Sikh community, and a consequent backlash about the curtailment of freedom of expression.  The play was selected as a Finalist before its production.  Winning $10,000 and a Willem de Kooning lithograph made especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Ms. Bhatti, 36, described her play's theme: "In a community where public honour is paramount, is there any room for the truth?" and went on to describe her play: "Past her prime, Min joyfully spends her life caring for her sick, foul-mouthed mother, Balbir. Today, for the first time in years, they're off - out to the local Sikh Temple. When Balbir encounters old friends, a past trauma rears its ugly head. Min and Balbir's illusions are about to be shattered as they become cruelly immersed in a world of desperate aspiration and dangerous deals".  

In a statement made after the cancellation of the play at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, she said, "I wholeheartedly stand by my work... I hope bridges can be built, but whether this prodigal daughter can ever return home remains to be seen." One of the judges on the international panel of six, Matt Wolf, reflecting the unanimous opinion, noted that Ms. Bhatti writes "with courage, intelligence and skill about family dynamics within a larger, ceaselessly fascinating social and cultural context".

The judges also awarded two Special Commendations of $2,000 each. One of these went to the Iraqi-American actress and playwright Heather Raffo for NINE PARTS OF DESIRE, which the playwright herself performed in an extended run at the Manhattan Ensemble Theater in New York. Through extensive research and interviews on four continents over a period of eleven years, Ms. Raffo collected the stories of the Iraqi and American women that are included in the play.   She first performed the play in August 2003 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, later at the Bush Theatre in London. It then had a reading at The Public Theatre in New York. Originally from Michigan, Ms. Raffo now resides in New York. She is the daughter of an Iraqi father and an American mother.

The other Special Commendation was awarded to a young London playwright, Chloe Moss, for her second play HOW LOVE IS SPELT, first produced at the Bush Theatre in 2004. In five episodes, a picture of the twenty-year-old Peta builds despite many apparent contradictions resulting from her own fantasies and lies. In the words of one of the judges, Chloe Moss's play, a "dissection of the varieties of love - sexual, generational, parental - really does leap off the page."

Nine other finalists received $1,000 each: Leslie Ayvazian (U.S.) for ROSEMARY AND I, Rebecca Gilman (U.S.) for THE SWEETEST SWING IN BASEBALL, Joanna McClelland Glass (Canada / U.S.) for TRYING, Bryony Lavery (U.K..) for LAST EASTER, Rebecca Lenkiewicz (U.K..) for THE NIGHT SEASON, Melanie Marnich (U.S.) for CRADLE OF MAN, Mia McCullough (U.S.) for SINCE AFRICA, Katherine Thomson (Australia) for HARBOUR, and Patricia Wettig (U.S.) for MY ANDY.

Besides Ms. Randall and Mr. Wolf, who is London theatre critic for Variety and The International Herald Tribune, the judges for the twenty-seventh annual awards were Stockard Channing, Sara Garonzik (Producing Artistic Director, Philadelphia Theatre Company), Corin Redgrave, and Carole Waddis (theatre journalist and critic in the U.K.)

Each year, theatres and prominent professionals in the theatre throughout the English-speaking world are asked to submit plays.  Not only to the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland, the Prize reaches out to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa.   Plays are eligible whether or not they have been produced, but any first production must have taken place within the preceding twelve months. Each script is read by at least three members of an international reading committee in order to select ten to twelve Finalists. The twelve Finalists were chosen from a field of approximately 80 submissions. All final nominations were read by all six Judges.

The Board of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has recently decided it is time to publish a major book centered around a thoughtful investigation of women's playwriting since the late 70's, when the Prize was established. "An overview of the past three decades will provide a unique prism through which to view the achievements and challenges of women writing for the English-speaking theatre," said Co-President Emilie Kilgore.  Alexis Greene, author, theatre critic, dramaturge and teacher is the editor of the volume, to be published next year by the University of Texas Press.

The Board is also pleased to announce that Smith and Kraus has published an anthology edited by Emilie Kilgore with an introduction by Wendy Wasserstein, entitled THE SUSAN SMITH BLACKBURN PRIZE: SIX IMPORTANT NEW PLAYS BY WOMEN.

The Prize reflects the values and interests of Susan Smith Blackburn, noted American actress and writer who lived in London the last 15 years of her life. She died in 1977, age 42.


This page last updated 8th March 2005