David Adjmi

David Adjmi

Fellow: Awarded 2011
Field of Study: Drama and Performance Art

Competition: US & Canada

Primary Stages School of Theatre

Before playwright David Adjmi finished his M.F.A. at the University of Iowa’s Playwrights Workshop (2001), he was already making a name for himself with his idiosyncratic plays. Strange Attractors, which he wrote while at Iowa, is a loose adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Revised in readings and workshops—at A.S.K. Theatre Project, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, New York Theatre Workshop, and Florida Stage, among others—and funded in part by a Cherry Lane Mentor Project Fellowship, Strange Attractors had its world premiere at the Empty Space Theatre in Seattle in 2002 and was selected by Seattle Weekly as one of the top-ten plays of the year. On the strength of that play the Royal Court Theatre in London appointed him to an International Playwright residency and commissioned his next play, Elective Affinities, which in 2005 was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford upon Avon, went on to the Soho Theater in London in 2006, and crossed the Atlantic to open the 2011-12 season at New York City’s Soho Repertory Theater. Strange Attractors also earned him admission to Juilliard’s American Playwrights Program (only four people are admitted each year) in 2001, where he won the Lecomte du Nouy Prize.

After a stint as a paralegal in New York City, he won the Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights (2003), which allowed him to travel to Berlin. There, influenced by Schiller, Lessing, and the German Romantics, he drafted three plays: Caligula, 3C, and The Evildoers. He describes The Evildoers as “a critique of Christian fundamentalism couched in domestic comedy.” That play earned him a Jon Robin Baitz’ Ovid Grant for New Writing, was selected for development at the Sundance Institute Theater Lab, and premiered in 2008 at the Yale Repertory Theatre. The New Haven Advocate and the Hartford Chronicle both listed it as one of the top-ten events of the year and it was filmed for inclusion in the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts’ permanent archive.

Back in the United States, he returned for a while to the Sephardic Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn where he grew up and found inspiration there for his next play, Stunning, which he wrote with his characteristic “crosshatching [of] the satire and the tragedy,” as he explained to Felicia R. Lee in an interview in The New York Times (June 16, 2009). Developed during his Sundance/Ucross residency, a New York Theatre Workshop’s Monday-at-3 series/Dartmouth residency, and the Manhattan Theatre Club’s SpringBoards series, Stunning was a huge critical and popular success on its world premiere at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C., in March 2008, claiming a place on the Washington Post’s list of the ten best plays of the year as well as five nominations for Helen Hayes Awards, including one for the Charles MacArthur Award for outstanding new play. Two months later, he was one of seven writers (out of about 300 applicants) to receive a seven-year membership in New Dramatists. The New York premiere of Stunning at the Lincoln Center Theatre in June 2009 sold out and was extended; and, like The Evildoers, was filmed for inclusion in the permanent archives of the Center’s Performing Arts Library. It was also published in American Theatre magazine (September 2008).

Marie Antoinette, his next play, was drafted during one of his MacDowell Colony residencies, and was developed at the Soho Repertory Theatre’s Writer/Director Lab, in workshops at JAW/West Festival at Portland Center Stage, the Theatre Lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Goodman Theatre New Stages series, and was selected as one of two plays to inaugurate the Sundance Institute Residency at the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theatre in November 2007. Under the direction of Rebecca Taichman, it will have its world premiere in a co-production between A.R.T/Harvard and Yale Repertory Theatre in 2012.

In addition to commissions from Lincoln Center, Royal Court Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, and Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Mr. Adjmi’s honors include a Jerome Foundation Fellowship, 2006-07; the Marian Seldes—Garson Kanin Prize, 2007; the Kesselring Fellowship for Drama, 2008-09; a Bush Artists Fellowship, 2008-09; the inaugural Steinberg Playwrights Award, 2009; and the Whiting Writers’ Award, the only playwright among the ten 2010 winners.

David Adjmi has been a visiting artist or instructor at New York University and the University of Rochester and is currently Playwriting Instructor at Primary Stages School of Theatre, a position he has held since 2009. He is a member not only of New Dramatists but also of Dramatists Guild, MCC Playwrights Coalition, London’s Soho Theatre “HUB,” and Rising Phoenix Repertory. A collection of his works, Stunning and Other Plays, is forthcoming from Theatre Communications Group, and his memoir, An Insignificant Man, will be published by HarperCollins in 2012.


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