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Shawn, Orlandersmith Win PEN/Pels Foundation Awards

Two playwrights also known for performing -- Wallace Shawn and Dael Orlandersmith -- are the recipients of the 2005 PEN/Laura Pels Foundation Awards for Drama, honoring "a master American dramatist" (Shawn) and "an American playwright in midcareer" (Orlandersmith). Part of the 2005 PEN Literary Awards, the honors will be handed out on May 23 at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, with Shawn receiving "a rare first edition of dramatic literature," courtesy of Bauman Rare Books, and Orlandersmith collecting a $7,500 stipend. PEN is an international association of literary writers.

In a written citation, the plays of Wallace Shawn -- "Aunt Dan and Lemon," "Marie and Bruce," and "The Designated Mourner," among them -- were described as being "ahead of the avant-garde for 40 years. In form and content, he has shown the way to a new kind of theatre, a theatre able to contain sex and politics and history and heartache and remorse, longing and confusion, the horrors of self-knowledge, deep and complex thought as well as deep and complex feeling, and to show us, in ways we would never otherwise have known so well, what it is to be a human being."

Shawn, born in 1943, the son of William Shawn, the renowned editor of The New Yorker, is known as both an actor and playwright. He is currently appearing on stage in the Off-Broadway revival of David Rabe's "Hurlyburly." But he has frequently been seen in his own work as well, such as the original New York productions of "The Hotel Play" (1970), "Aunt Dan and Lemon" (1985), and "The Designated Mourner" (2000). He is also remembered for his work in two Louis Malle-directed films opposite Andre Gregory: "My Dinner With Andre" (1981) and "Vanya on 42nd Street" (1994). The Roundabout Theatre Company is slated to produce his adaptation of "The Threepenny Opera" in 2006.

The citation for Orlandersmith -- a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in drama for "Yellowman" in 2002 -- was just as rhapsodic, calling her work "poetic, raw, brave, funny, tragic, rebellious, compassionate, angry, ugly, maddening, beautiful, and fiercely human...[her] work miraculously manages to be all of these things at once." Orlandersmith, the citation went on, "is unafraid to venture into troubling and controversial territory to bring us compelling stories that bear witness to the diversity of the American experience. Her deep reservoir of characters is filled with damaged, fragile people who share their tales with a naked urgency. In her hands, the truth is a bitter yet welcome pill that's delivered with poetic insight and words that flow so deliciously that they make you sway. As a poet, playwright, and performer, she is equally gifted and as such the American theatre is enriched and enlivened by her presence." Her other plays include "The Gimmick," "Monster," "My Red Hand, My Black Hand," and "Raw Boys."

Previous PEN/Pels Award winners include Lanford Wilson and Lynn Nottage (2004), Richard Foreman and Charles L. Mee (2001), and Edward Albee and Paula Vogel (1999). The judges for this year's awards were Nottage, Mee, and Craig Lucas.

-- Leonard Jacobs

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