Yussef El Guindi's Pilgrims Musa and Sheri Wins Steinberg New Play Award

Kenneth Jones
March 31, 2012

Yussef El Guindi's Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, a play about immigration and assimilation, was named winner of the $25,000 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for 2012, the American Theatre Critics Association announced.

The Steinberg/ATCA award recognizes the best American scripts that premiered professionally the previous year outside New York City.

Ken LaZebnik's On the Spectrum and A. Rey Pamatmat's Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them received Steinberg/ATCA citations and $7,500 each. Both LaZebnik and Pamatmat are first-time new play award winners. El Guindi won ATCA's 2009 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award for an emerging playwright.

Checks and commemorative plaques were presented to all three at Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays on March 31.

The award was created by ATCA in 1977 to recognize excellence in playwriting by honoring the best new plays not yet produced in New York City. Since 2000, it has been funded by The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, making the $40,000 Steinberg/ATCA the largest national new play award of its kind.

Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World is characterized as "a gentle romantic comedy wrapped around a serious examination of issues facing immigrants today, much as they did in the past." According to ATCA, "An Egyptian immigrant who drives a cab strikes up a romance with a quirky American-born waitress, but the clash of cultures is only the hook El Guindi uses to explore the diversity of opinions even within ethnic groups in the struggle for assimilation and belief in the American Dream." It premiered in June 2011 at ACT A Contemporary Theatre, the Seattle institution that specializes in new works and producing contemporary theatre.

Born in Egypt, raised in London and now based in Seattle, El Guindi received a B.A. from American University in Cairo and a 1985 MFA in playwriting from Carnegie-Mellon University. He frequently examines the collision of ethnicities, cultures and politics that face Arab-Americans. He has had more than a dozen plays produced since 2001 in regional theaters from Durham to Anchorage. At the same time, he has worked as resident playwright at Silk Road Theatre Project; literary manager for Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco; playwright in residence, dramaturg and lecturer at Duke University; and dramaturg for Eureka Theatre and reader for The Magic Theatre, both in San Francisco.

LaZebnik's On the Spectrum "depicts a young man with Asperger's Syndrome passing as 'typical' after years of mainstreaming and therapy. He connects with a woman who proudly champions her autism as a difference, not a disorder. Their love story reveals the contradictions between the desire for acceptance and for achievement. Among the choices: live in a fantastic world of the mind or join the more mundane society that typecasts you as your illness." The work premiered in November 2011 at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.

Pamatmat's Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them was first produced in a "rolling world premiere" by Actors Theatre of Louisville/Humana Festival of New Plays, New Theatre in Coral Gables, FL, and Actors Express in Atlanta. "This moving, bittersweet play portrays a very untraditional family of three young misfits: a brilliant 16-year-old and his precocious 12-year-old sister, abandoned by their widowed father, and the brother's lover who runs from a family denying his nascent homosexuality. Their fanciful bonding against the challenges of the real world, their resilience and their realization of their limitations result in a meaningful comic drama infused with empathy and wry humor."

The 2012 Steinberg/ATCA award recipients were selected from 27 eligible scripts, submitted by ATCA members, by a committee of 12 theatre critics led by chairman Wm. F. Hirschman, FloridaTheaterOnStage.com. Other committee members are Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Bruce Burgun, Bloomington Herald Times and Back Stage; Michael Elkin, Jewish Exponent (PA); Pam Harbaugh, Florida Today (Melbourne); Elizabeth Keill, Independent Press (Morristown, NJ); Jerry Kraft, aislesay.com (Port Angeles, WA) ; Julius "Jay" Novick, freelancer (New York City); Wendy Parker, The Village Mill (Midlothian, VA); David Sheward, Back Stage (New York); Herb Simpson, totaltheater.com and capitalcriticscircle.com (Geneseo, NY);and Tim Treanor, DC Theater Scene (Washington, DC).

For a complete list of Steinberg/ATCAplays, go to www.americantheatrecritics.org.


ATCA was founded in 1974 and works to raise critical standards and public awareness of critics' functions and responsibilities and to recognize excellence in the American theatre. The only national association of professional theater critics, with several hundred members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations and websites, ATCA is the U.S. national section of the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

ATCA also sponsors the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award for an emerging playwright and administers the $10,000 Francesca Primus Prize, funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, honoring outstanding contributions to the American theater by a female artist who has not yet achieved national prominence.

Annually ATCA makes a recommendation for the Regional Theater Tony Award presented by the American Theatre Wing/Broadway League, and its members vote on inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame. For more information on ATCA, visit www.americantheatrecritics.org.

Center REPertory Company presents edgy Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World

Pat Craig
April 23, 2013

One of the most impressive and entertaining chapters of local theater offerings has been Walnut Creek-based Center Repertory Company's Off Center play series, which, in the company's own words, presents "new and more challenging contemporary works."

The series solves at least a couple of problems faced by theaters seeking to take the risky step to becoming a regional theatrical force. It allows Center Rep to broaden its repertoire by staging plays that, for any number of reasons from language to subject matter, would attract a smaller than average crowd. Center Rep handles this by staging Off Center shows in the Lesher Center's more intimate Knight Stage 3 (black box) Theater, as opposed to the larger Hofmann and Lesher Theatres, which hosts Center Rep's main stage plays.

Second, these shows give some East Bay theatergoers a chance to see edgier fare closer to home, rather than travel to San Francisco. Saturday might be a good time to begin this adventure by seeing "Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World," an edgy romantic comedy by Seattle author Yussef El Guindi.

Although the award-winning playwright often focuses his works on Arab-American characters in the post-9/11 landscape, he says he doesn't consider himself a political writer. He seems quite happy to claim "Musa and Sheri" as a romantic comedy, saying the seeds for the show were sewn as he eavesdropped on a conversation in a stairwell.

The play is about a budding romance between Musa, an Egyptian immigrant working as a cabdriver, and Sheri, a white American waitress whose vocabulary is considerably more colorful than that of the more contemplative Musa.

As it unfolds, the play looks at the differences between American and Middle Eastern values.

"Musa and Sheri" won the 2012 Steinberg Award, which is presented to the best new American play of the year not yet produced in New York.