‘Lidless’ earns drama prize

The Yale Drama Series awarded its third annual David C. Horn Prize to “Lidless,” a play by Frances Yao-Chu Cowhig, a graduate student from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, Austin.

Dramatist and screenwriter David Hare, the judge of this year’s contest, selected Cowhig’s play out of 650 applicants and announced his decision last week.

“ Lidless’ was the clear winner, an extraordinary and original attempt to show the enduring strain on the victims of the U.S.’s deployment of torture at Guantánamo,” Hare told The New York Times on March 16. Francine Horn, the sponsor of the award, praised the play for its “strong writing and moral relevance.”

For her achievement, the Yale Repertory Theatre will host a staged reading of the play in September, and “Lidless” the Yale University Press will publish the play.

Cowhig will also receive a $10,000 cash prize. The David Charles Horn Foundation is the sole sponsor of the award.

“Lidless” centers on the reunion of a male Guantánamo Bay detainee and his former female Army interrogator. Fifteen years after his release, the prisoner revisits his captor and demands half her liveras recompense for the physical and psychological wounds inflicted during their interrogations.

Despite the political backdrop, the playwright contends the play centers on emotions.

“It’s really a play about the senses — how visual and sensory experiences inform the moral and political issues,” Cowhig said. “There’s messy biological stuff. In a sense, I’m taking a political thing and putting a mirror of magical realism over it. No one wants to see a play that should be an op-ed piece.”

As typical of all her work and in spite of whatever success the play has already garnered, Cowhig is in the process of rewriting.

“It’s constantly evolving,” Cowhig said. “Lidless” was revised over 20 times since Hare first saw it, and it will see “probably 10 more drafts” before submission to the Yale Press for publication. “I think it’s still early,” Cowhig said of the present state of her play.

As an undergraduate at Brown University, she took three classes from Pulitzer Prize–winning dramatist Paula Vogel, who is now chairwoman of the playwriting department at the Yale School of Drama. She was in Vogel’s graduate seminar and had an independent study with the writer that, she said, included casual trips to New York to see plays and discuss them over ice cream.

The Drama Series Award is not Cowhig’s only prize for “Lidless.” After she finishes at the Michener Center for Writers, her second graduate school after Brown, in the spring, Cowhig will take “Lidless” to various developmental workshops, where her play will be revised and performed. She will also spend time at writer’s colonies, which she characterizes as “living alone in a cottage, not having to do odd jobs to survive.” These will include the Developmental Grant at Philadelphia’s Political Theater and the MFA Conference at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The judge, David Hare, began his career in 1970 after his graduation from Jesus College, Cambridge, with the production of his first play, “Slag.” He has written and published over 20 plays, including “The Blue Room,” “Stuff Happens” and “Gethsemane.” This year, his adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s novel “The Reader” earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Hare, who was unable to be reached for comment by the News on Monday, chose “The Danger of Bleeding Brown” by Enrique Urueta and “Hell Money” by Ruth McKee as runners up in the 2009 competition. He will serve as judge for next year’s prize, as well.

Francine Horn established the David C. Horn Foundation in 2005 to support initiatives in literary and dramatic arts in honor of her husband’s dedication to writing. David Horn was a magazine publisher and writer of creative fiction in his spare time.

Of the Horn Foundation’s connection with the Yale Press and Yale Repertory Theatre in 2005, Francine Horn told the News: “It was lucky we all found each other: my husband and I, the Yale Press and the Yale Rep. We had decided sometime ago it would be a great thing to award a young, presumably struggling, writer with the publication of their work and help them get a leg up in the literary world.”

Past staged readings of the Drama Series Award-winning plays at the Rep opened to sold-out audiences.

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