Jennifer Fawcett wins Smith Prize for political theater

Jennifer Fawcett has been a mainstay at Iowa City's Riverside Theatre. -- photo courtesy of Christina Patramanis
Jennifer Fawcett is co-founder and Associate Artistic Director of Working Group Theatre. — photo courtesy of Riverside Theatre

The 2015 Smith Prize for Political Theater award goes to Iowa City resident Jennifer Fawcett for her untitled play which tells the story of a family tragedy with enormous social consequences.

The Smith prize, which is administered by the National New Play Network, encourages playwrights to address pressing cultural issues through personal stories, and Fawcett’s piece does just that. At the show’s beginning, a woman wakes to a telephone call and a request to bake an apple pie as a last supper for her son, who is on death row. While she’s baking the pie, the woman reflects on her life as a mother, and tries to pinpoint the moment when violence grew into his life. While pondering this question, she can’t help but wonder if she could have done something differently to help her son.

The Smith Prize defines ‘political theatre’ as plays that address the issues that effect the American body politic. Although Fawcett’s piece is intimate, showing the last kind gesture a mother will ever give to her son, the underlying idea is driven by a bigger picture: Fawcett’s piece on the death penalty is certain to contribute to the ongoing debate about capital punishment.

Previous Smith Prize winners include Chris Weikel and George Brant. Weikel won the prize in 2014 for Word from Kampala, a play about Evangelical missionaries who return home to America with haunting memories of their deeds. In 2012, Brant won for Grounded, a story about the nature of warfare from the early stone ages, to modern day drones.

Fawcett has performed in productions with many theatres including the Riverside Theatre in Iowa City, where she performed in by Robert Casiley’s Lucky Me last February. Fawcett is also the co-founder and Associate Artistic Director of Working Group Theatre. Another of her works, Atlas of Mud, won the National Science Playwriting Award, and Birth Witches was nominated for the ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award.

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