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An honor and a mystery

Laufer_2Deborah Zoe Laufer had a wonderful weekend. After all, it isn't every Saturday night that a playwright gets to stand on the biggest stage at Actors Theatre of Louisville, in front of a Humana Festival crowd full of producers, artistic directors, critics and theater lovers from all over the world, and get both an award citation and a check for $7,500.  But that's what happened to Laufer on March 29.

Laufer and fellow playwright Sarah Ruhl were honored for, in essence, having written two of the three best plays of 2007, in the estimation of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.  An ATCA committee read 28 new plays submitted by its members, chosing Moises Kauffman's 33 Variations (which debuted at Washington's Arena Stage) for the top $25,000 prize, giving citations and $7,500 each to Ruhl for Dead Man's Cell Phone (which premiered at Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company) and Laufer for End Days.

Enddays Though Laufer lives outside New York City, End Days has a major South Florida connection.  Like two earlier Laufer scripts, it premiered at Florida Stage in Manalapan.  Here's the first sentence of the review I wrote after the play opened last October:  "End Days, Deborah Zoe Laufer's rapturously funny play about a family trying to survive in a world hurtling toward Armageddon, proves that the right playwright can inspire healing laughter in even the most sobering subjects." (I might change that last bit to "...through even the most sobering subjects" if I were writing it today, but oh well.)

I share this information not just because the Steinberg/ATCA citation is a much-deserved honor for a talented playwright (it is) but because the ATCA committee saw End Days much differently than did those who recommend productions for Carbonell Awards consideration.  The Carbonells, which will take place again on April 7 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, are South Florida's equivalent of the Joseph Jefferson Awards, the Helen Hayes Awards, whatever awards program you can think of that honors theater in a community.

  But when the nominees are read out at the ceremony on Monday, those in attendance will not hear Laufer's name or End Days on that short list.  That's because the local group that considered End Days last October decided it wasn't nomination-worthy.  The mysteries of the Carbonell recommendation process -- and, debatably, its flaws -- have generated a lot of buzz and some fury in South Florida's theater community of late.  That process is certainly going to be on the agenda at some future Carbonell meeting, after everyone gets glammed up and this year's awards are given out. Though not to Laufer.

I'm guessing, though, that the citation at the Humana Festival and the $7,500 check are some consolation.