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Wagner College Theatre Announces 2016 Stanley Drama Award Winners

The Wagner College Theatre has announced that the winner of this year's Stanley Drama Award is Mike Bencivenga of Astoria, Queens, N.Y., for his two-act play, "Bad Hearts."

Two finalists for this year's awards were also announced: Harold Ellis Clark of Gretna, La., for "Madame Thames's Spirit Bar," and Alan Goodson of Los Angeles, Cal., for "Morgenstern in Vienna."

The awards will be given on Monday, March 14 at 6 p.m. at the Player's Club in Manhattan. The awards ceremony will be followed by a cocktail reception.

The evening's program will feature special guest presenter Jan Buttram, founder of the Abingdon Theatre Company, a not-for-profit theater company whose mission is to develop and produce new plays by American playwrights.

For more information, contact our Special Events office by email ( or telephone (718-390-9333).

The Stanley Drama Award was established in 1957 by Staten Island philanthropist Alma Guyon Timolat Stanley and endowed through the Stanley-Timolat Foundation to encourage and support aspiring playwrights. The national Stanley Award competition is administered by the Wagner College Theatre program, ranked as the number one college theater program in the country in the Princeton Review's "Best Colleges Guide 2015." The Stanley Award carries with it a monetary prize along with the distinction of joining the company of past Stanley winners.

The Stanley Drama Award has a long and distinguished history. Past winners include Terrence McNally's "This Side of the Door" (aka "Things That Go Bump in the Night"), Lonne Elder III's "Ceremonies in Dark Old Men," and Jonathan Larson's "Rent." Among those judging for the Stanley Award have been playwrights Edward Albee and Paul Zindel, actresses Geraldine Page and Kim Stanley, and TV producer/pioneer talk-show host David Susskind.

2016 Stanley Drama Award winner: Mike Bencivenga's 'Bad Hearts'

On a fall day in 1975, Margaret "Mags" Esposito unexpectedly comes home from college to her suburban Long Island home, hoping to find love and acceptance in the war zone of a family in which she was raised. Her younger brother, Eddie, who appears to be winning his lifelong battle with stuttering, joyfully greets her. But Mags' return and her newfound confidence rubs her mother, Joyce, the wrong way. Joyce sees in Mags everything she wants, but will never become. The weight of being married to a man she no longer loves, and a life spent raising children she was never sure she wanted, has made her bitter. Mags' father, Tony, is equally depressed, having grown up convinced he'll die of a heart attack at age 50, as have all the men in his family. Mags tries to shake them out of it, but learns that bringing hope to a broken soul can produce unexpected consequences. "Bad Hearts" is about the fragility of dreams, the toxicity of despair, and the treacherous, tragic place some of us call home.

In the theater, Mike Bencivenga has written, directed, produced and acted in one-acts and full-length plays (with MTC and the Lightning Strikes Theater Company), performed improv comedy (as one of the Chainsaw Boys), and wrote and directed sketch comedy in New York, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles. The full-length plays he's written include "Single Bullet Theory," "Couplets," "Billy & Ray," "Summer on Fire" and "Bad Hearts."

In 2013, "Billy & Ray" won the prestigious W. Keith Hedrick Award for best play. It was produced in 2013 at the Falcon Theater under the direction of the legendary Garry Marshall. The show moved to the Vineyard Theater in 2014, also directed by Garry Marshall, where it enjoyed an extended sold-out run.

In December 2014, Bencivenga's political comedy, "Summer on Fire," won the Christopher Brian Wolk Award for excellence in playwriting from the Abingdon Theater in New York. "Summer on Fire" had its world premiere in 2016 at the Scorpion Theater in Calgary, Alberta.

Bencivenga is currently working on an original, full-length comedy commissioned by the Purple Rose Theater of Chelsea, Mich., and is looking forward to further productions of "Billy & Ray" planned for the U.S. and London.

In film, Bencivenga wrote, directed and produced "Losers in Love," starring Nick Searcy, in 1993. In the fall of 2001, he co-wrote and directed "Happy Hour," starring Anthony LaPaglia, Eric Stoltz and Robert Vaughn. "Happy Hour" was awarded the Audience Award for Best Picture at the 2004 Florida Film Festival and the prestigious Prism Award for the accurate depiction of alcohol abuse, among other honors. Bencivenga has written a number of other screenplays, including "Running Gun," about the life and times of Wild West folk legend Billy the Kid, and "Taliesin," the story of the early, scandalous years of the iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He's looking forward to the release this year of "Great Plains," an original suspense drama he wrote for MarVista Entertainment.

In addition to his work in theater and film, Bencivenga is an Emmy-winning producer who has worked for over 30 years at WABC-TV in New York. He lives in Astoria, Queens, with his lovely wife Jen.

2016 Stanley Drama Award finalist: Harold Ellis Clark's 'Madame Thames's Spirit Bar'

The time: late August, 1975. The place: a Jean Lafitte, Louisiana bar, as a category one hurricane douses the metro New Orleans area with rain. Roscoe, a black Vietnam veteran, confesses to Philomena, the bar's owner, that he killed three white men during a dispute, and seeks temporary refuge there until flooding recedes on the main road. She rejects his request. He, in turn, offers her a significant sum of money, and she changes her mind. While visiting Philomena, Sheriff LaSalle gets a panicked visit from Deputy Birch. He reveals that the bodies of three white men have been found in an apparent drug deal gone bad. They bolt from the bar. Philomena enters the mysterious closet where Roscoe is hiding. Again, she demands that he leave, but he offers her more money to stay, and she obliges. Upon Sheriff LaSalle and Deputy Birch's return, Roscoe, armed with a shotgun, holds them at bay. The spirit of Madame Victoria Thames descends from the closet. She was the love interest of a slave owner who jilted her, ending her prospects of becoming a free woman of color; she subsequently killed him at the plantation, and later herself on the banks of the River Thames. Philomena informs the men that someone always dies when the spirit enters the bar, setting the stage to see who survives this ghostly encounter.

Since beginning his playwriting career in 2010, after 18 years of writing numerous unpublished novels and unproduced screenplays, Harold Ellis Clark's plays have won awards from Playhouse on the Square (Memphis, Tenn.) for "We Live Here," and Upstage Theatre (Baton Rouge, La.) for "Fishers of Men." He has been honored twice before as one of two finalists for the Stanley Drama Award for "Tour Detour" (2013) and "Uncle Bobby '63" (2015). Clark also has been a finalist in playwriting competitions with American Blues Theatre (Chicago, Ill.), IATI Theatre (New York, N.Y.) - both for "Uncle Bobby '63" - and Stage West (Fort Worth, Texas) for "Tour Detour." He is a three-time semifinalist for the Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference (Waterford, Conn.) for "Tour Detour" (2013), "We Live Here" (2014) and "Uncle Bobby '63" (2015).

Clark's other plays include "Marrero Action." His current work-in-progress is "The Least of These," a companion to the award-winning, critically acclaimed "Fishers of Men," which the Gambit Weekly (New Orleans) called "a compelling, probing exploration of violence and the challenge to save lives" during the production's revival in November 2015 at the Ashé Power House Theatre in New Orleans.

Since 2002, Clark has served as host/producer of WYLD-FM's "Sunday Journal with Hal Clark," five-time winner of the Best Radio Talk Show Award at the annual Press Club of New Orleans' Excellence in Journalism Awards Competition Gala.

2016 Stanley Drama Award finalist: Alan Goodson's 'Morgenstern in Vienna'

Samuel Morgenstern, an American Jew who left Vienna as a child in 1938, has seemingly made peace with his hometown, where he has been living for some years now, when he is suddenly beset by a number of unexpected visitors: his estranged daughter, Raizele, a psychologist in need of help, fleeing from her family's past and a bad divorce; Joshua, a naïve, young American searching for some kind of identity; and Bubbe, Morgenstern's late grandmother, murdered by the Nazis, who emerges from a glacier with which he shares his apartment, and who proceeds to cook a fresh pot of matzo ball soup every day. Can Bubbe's soup bring these characters together and help them discover a sense of belonging as Samuel and Raizele reopen old wounds, Raizele and Joshua fall into a passionate affair neither understands, the streets below explode in xenophobic rioting, and the glacier expands further and further into the apartment?

Alan Goodson is a playwright, translator of plays, lyricist, actor and director based in Los Angeles. He has been a Dramatists Guild member since 1996. Readings of his first play, "Morgenstern in Vienna," were enthusiastically received at Ensemble Studio Theatre/L.A., and then selected for presentation in staged readings at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre's New Play Festival in 2015. His next play, an existentialist farce entitled "The Missing Three," was a 2014 finalist in Playhouse on the Square's annual playwriting competition in Memphis, Tenn., where it was presented in a staged reading. His latest play, "On A Raw Moose Day," is an absurdist comedy, a play within a play within a play that questions our perceptions of reality.

Goodson translates plays and lyrics from German, Swedish and Hungarian into English and is the official English translator of the Finnish playwright, Bengt Ahlfors. Goodson's translation of Ahlfors's ironic take on Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days" has been performed at a number of regional theaters in the U.S., following the original work's international success.

As an actor, Goodson has performed in many theaters throughout California, as well as in leading roles in European venues such as Frankfurt's Old Opera House and Vienna's English Theatre. He has also been seen in over a dozen American and European films and TV episodes. Goodson earned a BFA in acting from U.S. International University in San Diego and completed graduate work at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London. His activities as a director have been centered in Vienna, where he had his own contemporary theater group and where he has directed in diverse genres, from clown theater to chamber opera.

Special guest presenter Jan Buttram

Jan Buttram is the founder of the Abingdon Theatre Company, a not-for-profit theater company whose mission is to develop and produce new plays by American playwrights. For the past 23 seasons, she selected, wrote, acted, developed and produced 87 new plays by American playwrights. She led the company to the Wuzhen Theatre Festival in Wuzhen, China and directed the main stage production of "Hellman v. McCarthy," starring Dick Cavett and Roberta Maxwell. "Hellman v. McCarthy" was chosen to be filmed for WNET's inaugural season of "Theatre Close Up."

Buttram wrote a pilot for AMC, "Grumpy Old Men," and her own plays have been performed in New York City and across the U.S. She has received commissions from Capital Rep, Greenbrier Valley Theatre, University of Memphis, Fox Lane High School and Bergen Community College. Her play, "Backwoods," won the Roger L. Stevens Award from the Kennedy Center's Fund for New American Plays, and she is published by Samuel French, Smith and Kraus, and Heineman Books.

Also an actress, Buttram toured nationally with "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," directed by Tommy Tune and Peter Masterson, and regionally with Richard Harris's "Steppin' Out," directed by Carl Schurr and choreographed by Pamela Sousa. She made her Off-Broadway debut in "Fashion," directed by Tony Stimac. Regional credits include performances with Capital Rep, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival and the John Drew Theater. Her professional debut was with the New Orleans Repertory Company, where she enjoyed three amazing seasons under the artistic direction of playwright/director/actress June Havoc.

Buttram is a proud alumna of the University of North Texas, where she earned a B.A. and M.A. in theater. She has recently been invited to return to the nominating committee for the Lucille Lortel Awards for excellence in New York Off-Broadway theater.

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