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Originally published Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 12:05 AM

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Seattle writer’s LBJ play wins $25,000 Steinberg prize

Seattle writer Robert Schenkkan’s LBJ drama “All the Way” has won the coveted $25,000 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for 2013.

Seattle Times theater critic

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Seattle playwright and screenwriter Robert Schenkkan has won the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award for best play to premiere outside of New York in 2012.

The honor, which carries a $25,000 prize, was bestowed on Schenkkan’s play “All the Way” on Saturday night at the Humana New Plays Festival, held in Louisville, Ky. It is the first part of a two-play series chronicling the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

Winning Steinberg/ATCA citations and $7,500 prizes are “Gidion’s Knot,” by Johnna Adams, a complex encounter between a teacher and the mother of a student who has committed suicide; and “The Invisible Hand,” by Ayad Akhtar, which depicts a financier kidnapped by terrorists who force him to raise his own ransom through stock manipulation.

Schenkkan is the second consecutive Seattle playwright to win the annual Steinberg/ATCA honor, one of the most prestigious in the nation. (In 2012, Yussef El Guindi received the award for his play “Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World.”) In another strong showing of Seattle talent, Keri Healey won ATCA’s 2013 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, also given Saturday, for her play “Torso.”

“It’s gratifying that your work continues to generate a strong positive response, especially among those in the critical community,” said Schenkkan, who previously won a Pulitzer Prize for his epic play “The Kentucky Cycle” and whose screenwriting credits include the TV miniseries “The Pacific.”

He noted that the impetus to write “All the Way” — which was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and premiered in 2012 — came from a long fascination with Lyndon Johnson. “I grew up in Austin, Texas, near his boyhood home and subsequent ranch, and my father had some dealings with him,” he said.

Schenkkan sees Johnson as “a character right out of Shakespeare ... In his rise to power and subsequent fall, there is a very classical dramatic line.”

“All the Way” follows Johnson from his ascension to the presidency after the Kennedy assassination to his embarking on an ambitious legislative agenda that would include passing a sweeping civil-rights act, establishing the Medicare program and other achievements.

Schenkkan said he had always hoped to chronicle Johnson’s entire presidency, “beyond the landmark 1964 election, through the Voting Rights Act, the extraordinary Great Society legislation, and, of course, the increasing debacle that was (the Vietnam War),” and up to Johnson’s decision to not run for re-election in 1968.

Schenkkan is currently writing the second installment of his LBJ epic, “The Great Society,” which has been co-commissioned by Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Seattle Repertory Theatre. It will premiere at OSF in 2014 and, said Schenkkan, “It’s everyone’s hope that ... the OSF production will transfer to Seattle, perhaps in conjunction with a remounting of ‘All the Way.’ ”

In the meantime, “All the Way” will get its second production this fall at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. OSF artistic head Bill Rauch, who directed the Ashland premiere, will again stage the work.

Honorees of the ATCA/Steinberg prizes and the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award are chosen by a jury of 15 U.S. theater critics from a larger pool of nominated scripts. The 2013 jury included Misha Berson, of The Seattle Times, and Jerry Kraft, a Port Angeles-based freelance reviewer.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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