By Aisling Murphy
The Canadian Theatre Critics Association is pleased to announce this year’s winners of the Nathan Cohen Awards for Excellence in Critical Writing.
Nathan Cohen (1923-1971) is often regarded as Canada’s preeminent theatre critic. Cohen wrote for the Toronto Star from 1959 to 1971, where he reviewed plays across the country and internationally, and was also a critic and host for CBC Radio and Television. Known for his tough-minded and insightful criticism, Cohen played a key role in raising professional standards for Canadian theatre during the postwar era. The CTCA’s major awards for critical writing are named in his honour.
This year’s awards were adjudicated by veteran Chicago Tribune theatre critic Chris Jones and former Globe and Mail critic and two-time Nathan Cohen Award winner Deirdre Kelly.
There are three awards:
Outstanding Review: This award celebrates outstanding achievement in a written or verbal review of a particular production or productions by a Canada-based writer.
The 2022 recipient of the Nathan Cohen Award for Outstanding Review is Barbara Gabriel for her review of “Cottagers and Indians” by Drew Hayden Taylor, entitled “Haunted History in Cottage Country,” originally published by Capital Critics Circle and re-published by The Theatre Times.
Barbara has elected to donate her prize money to Water First Education & Training, a charity which supports Indigenous communities in addressing critical water challenges.
The 2022 runner-up for the Nathan Cohen Award for Outstanding Review is Martin Morrow for his review of “Uncle Vanya” at Crow’s Theatre, published in The Globe and Mail.
From adjudicator Chris Jones:
“My winner is the review of ‘Cottagers and Indians,’ which I think really captures the commitment and the sardonic humor of the piece under review. I’ve long been fascinated by this kind of experiential lede that draws in readers and then makes a transition to a more traditional voice so the piece can do what reviews need to do. This difficult linkage is seamless in this piece and quite beautifully achieved. I’m with every word and I go exactly where the critic wants me to go.
“My runner-up is the review of ‘Uncle Vanya,’ which has a spectacularly apt and concise lede and does the very difficult but necessary job of linking Chekhov to the moment. It’s a live-wire piece of writing and quite delicious to read.”
Outstanding Critical Essay: This award celebrates outstanding achievement in a piece of critical writing by a Canada-based writer outside of the traditional review format. This may include features, interviews, trend pieces, editorials, and article series (up to a maximum of 2,500 words cumulatively) written from a critical perspective.
The winner of the 2022 Nathan Cohen Award for Outstanding Critical Essay is J. Kelly Nestruck for his essay, “Shaw vs. Shaw: Why the theatre festival isn’t cancelling the anti-vaxxer playwright,” published by The Globe and Mail.
The 2022 runners-up for the 2022 Nathan Cohen Award for Outstanding Critical Essay are Martin Morrow for his essay, “Playwright Sharon Pollock brought Canadian stories to the stage and loved underdogs,” published by The Globe and Mail; and Signy Lynch for her essay “Performing at Home in the Pandemic: Boca del Lupo’s Plays2Perform@Home Collection,” published in the Canadian Theatre Review.
From adjudicator Chris Jones:
“My winner is the piece on George Bernard Shaw, anti-vaxxer.
“Aside from being an audacious idea, making a very serious point, the concise piece still managed a very wry tone, replete with a deliciously exasperated comment from the artistic director, who clearly didn’t want to answer the question. In short, this was a fresh and worthwhile criticism of George Bernard Shaw, but also an accessible piece that nodded to the complexity, perhaps even the absurdity, of critiquing a prominent anti-vaxxer from a previous century. and thus a world away.
“I have two runners-up of equal weight.
“One is the Sharon Pollock obituary, which I thought to be a hugely entertaining read, extraordinary in its amplification of the strength and resilience of its subject, and offering up so much detailed and learned analysis of her lifetime of theatrical contributions as to be more than any of us could wish we might get when we shuffle off this mortal coil.
“Second is the ‘Plays2Perform@Home’ piece, which I thought was a quite astonishingly detailed and comprehensive analysis of this particular phenomenon, filled with fascinating context on how home has functioned as a place of performance. I hope this piece goes into the internet archive on pandemic arts writing: it’s one of the best analyses that I have read, and I’ve read quite a few.”
Outstanding Emerging Critic: This award celebrates outstanding achievement by a Canada-based writer who has been practicing theatre criticism for less than three years, either professionally, non-professionally, or in a training context. This award includes an internship at Intermission Magazine and the opportunity to publish reviews and long-form pieces for the publication under the mentorship of Senior Editor Aisling Murphy.
The recipient of the 2022 Nathan Cohen Award for Outstanding Emerging Critic is Sophie Bouey for her review of “Pass Over,” written in fulfillment of the requirements of Directed Studies in History, Theory, or Theatre Administration at the University of Windsor, taught by Michelle MacArthur.
The runners-up for the 2022 Nathan Cohen Award for Outstanding Emerging Critic are Shalon T. Webber-Heffernan for his review of “An Elastic Sort of Love” and Liam Donovan for his review of “Beautiful Renegades.”
From adjudicator Deirdre Kelly:
“After a few fallow years, this year’s emerging critic category yielded a large crop of entries, the most ever received in the history of the Nathan Cohen Awards, doubling my delight in being the one appointed to pick through them. There were many contenders for the top prize but Sophie Bouey’s review of Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over — a filmed version of the original Steppenwolf Theater Company production — won out for its concision, clarity and contagious enthusiasm for its subject. Runners-up Shalon T. Webber-Heffernan and Liam Donovan also deserve recognition for their use of descriptive language and multilayered themes in their respective reviews. Reading them was a pleasure.”
The Nathan Cohen Awards have been given out since 1981. A complete list of past winners may be found here.