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From left, Laura Jacqmin, Martyna Majok, EM Lewis and Christopher Imbrosciano during an audience talkback following ANPF’s 2016 reading of “Cost of Living.”

Pulitzer-winning play incubated in Ashland

The 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama announced earlier this month went to “Cost of Living” by Martyna Majok, a play that headlined the Ashland New Plays Festival in 2016.

The playwright, a New Yorker, came to Ashland for two dramatic readings of the play at Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall in March 2016. It was directed by Penny Metropulos, who has a long history with Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Majok’s submission was one of three chosen by ANPF from among 50 responses to a call for its Women’s Invitational, an effort to enhance gender equity among playwrights, said ANPF President James Pagliasotti.

Riding on its warm reception in Ashland, Majok’s work got a fully staged premiere at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts, then the Manhattan Theater Club in New York in June 2017.

The success of ANPF as a launch spot, especially for women, is “thrilling for us and she is exemplary of a lot of new women playwrights,” said Pagliasotti. “We thought she was so outstanding. There are so many powerful voices out there now among women … Martyna was able to take that play from our humble little event on up to a Pulitzer Prize and we are so thrilled to be even a small part of it.”

Majok, in an email to the Tidings, said that in Ashland, “I met wonderful people who were kind and supportive of the play. The organization flew out two fantastic disabled actors — Regan Linton and Christopher Imbrosciano (who ended up understudying the role of John in the Manhattan Theatre Club production) — to be a part of the reading. Both wonderful actors the world should know.

“It was because of the work of Laura Jacqmin (chair of the Women’s Invitational) and (ANPF Artistic Director) Kyle Haden that I was able to be in Oregon. They created an award for female playwrights — which was given to Jiehae Park, Lauren Yee, and me — that brought the three of us to Ashland.”

The event got significant support from OSF, says Pagliasotti, including a reception and round table discussion for playwrights hosted by OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch.

“I’m a huge fan of her writing,” said Rauch, in an email. “This is such a wonderful, affirming moment in terms of the importance of ANPF as a new play incubator — and the fact that Martyna’s play was read in the Women’s Invitational is significant. We at OSF treasure our long and ongoing collaboration with ANPF, and extend our congratulations to James Pagliasotti and Kyle Haden.”

In addition to Majok’s play, the other two prize-winners of the Women’s Invitational went on to major productions — Yee’s “King of the Yees” at Goodman Theater in Chicago and Park’s “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo” at OSF, both in 2017.

In announcing the award, the Pulitzer board said her play “follows the struggles of a former trucker and his recently paralyzed ex-wife, and an arrogant young man with cerebral palsy and his new caregiver.”

With her win, Majok, 33, joins a line of Pulitzer winners including such theater legends as Edward Albee (for “Three Tall Women”), Neil Simon (“Lost in Yonkers”), Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy”), and Eugene O’Neill (“Long Day’s Journey Into Night”).

Metropolos said her workshop was “a very safe environment for her to continue work on her play. As director, you are in the midst of it, really trying to help the playwright, ask the right questions and help her, in terms of her hearing it the way she wants to hear it and continue to work on it. We also relaxed with some good wine and got to tell some great stories.”

In an article by Mary Silva on the ANPF website (www.ashlandnewplays.org/past-winners/womens-invitational), Majok says, “What female playwrights bring to the table is a perspective different from what is assumed, from the default perspective we are used to seeing … People have expectations about what those stories are supposed to be. I think women writing about those things create a different story, a different idea of who people are, without telling the same story over and over again.”

Haden, on the ANPF page, notes, “It’s a beautiful play … I’ve been excited to watch its journey after our reading here … through its major productions, and now being recognized with one of the highest honors a play can receive. I couldn’t be more thrilled for Martyna.”

The Polish-born Majok (MAY-oak) grew up in Chicago and earned theater degrees from University of Chicago, Yale and Julliard.

A video scene from the play is at www.pulitzer.org/winners/martyna-majok. Past winners of ANPF Women’s Invitational are at www.ashlandnewplays.org/past-winners/Women’s-Invitational/.

ANPF’s next event is a dramatic reading of Meridith Friedman’s “I Can Go,” the final installment of her trilogy about the Hoffman family, on Sunday, May 13, at Southern Oregon University’s newly renovated Main Stage Theatre.

This year’s festival is set for Oct. 17–21. For more information, visit ANPF’s website at www.ashlandnewplays.org.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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