“Sometimes, art is there to soothe us, sometimes it’s there to entertain us, sometimes it’s there to enlighten us, but sometimes art really is a lifeline. It’s there because it’s the only way that we can comfort, process, and shine light on injustice.” - Lynn Nottage
Honoring talented playwright Lynn Nottage at the luxe Capitale NYC brought the theatre industry’s brightest and most inspired minds together for an evening of celebration, performance, and thought-provoking discussion on what exactly makes art such a true necessity in a society where those without a voice can be amplified by those in the creative realm to combat injustice.
Each year, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center chooses one exemplary face in the theatre industry to receive the prestigious Monte Cristo Award. At this year’s 22nd Annual Monte Cristo Awards ceremony and fundraising dinner on November 6, 2023, the O’Neill institution honored esteemed playwright Lynn Nottage for her meaningful and groundbreaking work around working-class people, especially those who are Black or underrepresented.
Lynn Nottage gives a voice to those who cannot speak or act for themselves, which inspired her receipt of this distinction. In her acceptance speech, the playwright told the story of a man in Chad, seeking justice for his daughter through an unexpected introduction to the performing arts through his own (less-than-perfect) performance she had witnessed. Lynn told, “he continued to seek justice every way he could, and every step he took, he was turned away.” He told Lynn that he was performing in her play so that he could support his daughter, as the only way he could truly stand in solidarity with his actress daughter against the way rape was being used as a tool of manipulation and silencing women in Chad.
She noted that his inspiring story and willingness to share his voice and experience in any which way he could was a defining emotional moment for her. She asked, “Really, what is the necessity of art?” In this way combining personal support and overarching politics, she realized there is a bigger picture involved in the performing arts, which brought her to tears at the time. To her, the award is a recognition for all of these voices that inspired Lynn, her work, and others along the way in order to share and amplify smaller voices into a larger crowd through theatre.
Famous faces and luxe fashion looks flocked to Capitale NYC for the evening of celebration, gracing the red carpet with well-known names and various titles such as a rare appearance from actor and producer Michael Douglass, actor Laila Robins, and producer Tom Viertel. Live performances were a true treat for the audience – there was a musical accompaniment provided from signer and traditional cultural drummer Justin Hicks that elicited utter silence bursting into applause from attendees, alongside multiple lively theatrical stage performances of some of Lynn’s shorter works by various actors.
The first of these live showcases was Nottage’s Poof! (a witty banter on death and its resulting circumstances for the living,) brought comedically to life by duo Quincy Tyler Bernstine and Tonya Pinkins onstage. Each subsequent talented performance of Nottage’s brief plays Ruined, Intimate Apparel, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, and MJ: The Musical also garnered thunderous rounds of applause and pulled a range of emotions out of everyone in the room – it is a truely rare and ingenious talent like Nottage’s that holds the capacity to elicit both deeper, meaningful thoughts and hearty uproarious laughter within the span of a few lines of writing in performance.
As guests followed the journey of emotional ups and downs from the playwright’s legacy works, they dined upon luxe catering provided by Capitale NYC, an esteemed venue for upscale dining and beverages within the city. Culturally-inspired cuisine with flavor pairings such as tahini on artichoke, sake on striped bass, and rasperry on Valhrona chocolate brought a level of depth to guests’ dining, appropriate for the meaningful depths within the theatrical work of this evening’s Monte Cristo Award honoree.
Live fundraising presented by auctioneer also served to elevate the mood of the event and provided guests a way to contribute kindly to their industry and its up-and-coming artists through support for the hosting Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. The evening raised substantial necessary funds for the institution to allow it to further foster growth and development for deserving artists such as Lynn Nottage, who herself also spent dedicated working time there at the organization’s space while developing her writing and projects.
As Nottage stated in her acceptance speech, “They (the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center) gave me the space to write. I had an over-stuffed life and it’s really hard to push out all this noise. I really needed a space where I could sit and conjure a play that I knew was going to be difficult and painful. And in that room in Connecticut…by making space for me, I knew I’d be making space for that man in Chad, who desperately needed a forum to tell his story. Or even for the four female directors who I worked with in Cambodia who had survived the Khmer Rouge, who co-directed my play because it was too painful for them to do it alone.”
The night’s event brought together some of the best and brightest minds in the performing arts, alongside those with a mission and a goal to create meaningful performance works as a social platform for change and voice. Lynn serves to inspire us with her commentary on social issues, justice, and fairness, brought to light with a comedic tone and lighthearted quip interspersed with thought-provoking stories through her writing. Guests at the 22nd Annual Monte a Cristo Awards ceremony in New York City left the awards event feeling uplifted, grateful, inspired, and excited to see what new works and calls for change we can expect to see from playwright and advocate Lynn Nottage in the coming future of the world of theatre and performing arts.
Writer: Laur Weeks @laur.weeks
Images: Courtesy of Slate PR
Honoree: Lynn Nottage @lynnnottage
Organization: The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
PR: Slate PR @slatepr
Venue & Catering: Capitale NYC @capitalenyc