Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Rosenthals drop funding of new play prize

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

After 15 years, the curtain is coming down on the Rosenthal New Play Prize at Playhouse in the Park.

The trigger for the decision is the play chosen for the 2004 prize, Hiding Behind Comets by Brian Dykstra, which will be produced as a world premiere by the Playhouse in the Rosenthal Play slot in the Thompson Shelterhouse.

The approximately $30,000 gift, including at least a $10,000 award to the playwright, is one of the largest in the United States. The money for the 2004 prize will come from the Playhouse budget.

Lois and Richard Rosenthal, whose arts philanthropy this year included endowing free admission at Cincinnati Art Museum and being lead donors for the new Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, ended their sponsorship in a letter to Playhouse producing artistic director Ed Stern. "Because of a lack of enthusiasm for this year's selection, we have chosen to discontinue the prize," they wrote.

Neither the Rosenthals or Stern were willing to venture far from the prepared statement, but Lois Rosenthal acknowledged that eliminating the prize was not something that had been under consideration prior to the selection of Comets.

This year, the Rosenthal prize scored one its greatest artistic triumphs with the March premiere of The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Carson Kreitzer.

The winning script is chosen by Stern and the Playhouse.

A look at prize winners from the last few years shows depths - Red Corners, Dark Paradise - as well as peaks, like the popular Coyote on a Fence.

Comets features strong language, graphic violence and sexual situations in a drama about low-lifes in a small town dive who share a mysterious, dark connection.

The Rosenthals also declined to discuss their thoughts on the play, but their support of the harsh themes of Coyote (death row inmates) and Dead-Eye Boy (family abuse) suggest their issues aren't thematic.

Stern says he completely believes in Comets.

"I feel it continues the tradition of introducing hard-hitting new voices to the American stage. I believe this play will have a long life beyond Cincinnati and I am proud that our audiences will have the first opportunity to see it.

Dykstra's plays include Forsaking All Others and Spill the Wine. His screenplay credits include Baggage Claim, Amazombies and Un-Coupled. As an actor, he appeared at Playhouse in Keely and Du.

Playhouse is looking for a new sponsor for the new play prize.

Stern called the Rosenthals' support "a remarkable run. They created a climate where the Playhouse started to examine plays more cutting in nature."

"We'll always support the Playhouse, we would always be open to new ideas," Lois Rosenthal said. "We'll work with Ed to find strong programming to develop ..."


E-mail jdemaline@enquirer.com

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