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Julia Cho wins top women's playwriting prize for show about to open at SCR

March 4, 2010 |  2:45 pm


"The Language Archive," Julia Cho's new play about a linguist's problems with his wife and on the job, won't even begin previews at South Coast Repertory until March 26, but the boffo reviews are already in -- not for the world premiere production being directed by Mark Brokaw, but for the script, which has been awarded this year's Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for female playwrights.

Cho, who lives in Santa Monica, took a day's break from rehearsals at the Costa Mesa theater and jetted to New York for Wednesday's ceremony, where she collected a check for $20,000 and a signed and numbered print by Willem de Kooning.

She had been a finalist for the Blackburn prize with two previous scripts, "The Piano Teacher," which SCR premiered in 2007, and "99 Histories," written while she was a playwriting student at New York University, and featured in public readings at the Mark Taper Forum and South Coast Repertory in 2001-02. The protagonists of those plays were musicians.

The six-member judging panel was made up of  three Americans -- actress Hope Davis, Tony-winning director Doug Hughes ("Doubt") and Todd London, artistic director of the New Dramatists playwrights' group in New York -- and three Brits -- actress Fiona Shaw, director Indhu Rubasingham and BBC host and critic Mark Lawson.

"A brilliant piece of writing. We are taken beyond the space we are looking at, and that is something rare in modern writing," said Shaw. Hughes praised it as "a humane, wise work ... about the terrifying inadequacy of language to bridge the distance between human beings."

Blackburn was an American actress and writer who lived in London and died in 1977 at age 42; the following year her sister and husband established the prize, open to any woman writing plays in English. The sponsors note that all seven women who have won the Pulitzer Prize for drama since then have won Blackburns first.

This year's finalists were Americans Annie Baker, Melissa James Gibson and Young Jean Lee, Canadian Hannah Moscovitch, Abbie Spallen of Ireland and Lucy Kirkwood, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Lizzie Nunnery and Lucy Prebble of Britain.

-- Mike Boehm


Stories that exist in between

The world's horrors haunt a living room

'Histories' unlocks the past

Photo: Julia Cho. Credit: Christine Cotter/Los Angeles Times