Pussy Sludge, Gracie Gardner’s play about a young woman who also is an oil well, has earned the writer $45,000 and extensive development opportunities, courtesy of the American Playwriting Foundation’s “Relentless Award” prize.
The award was established in honor of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and “his pursuit of truth in the theater,” according to the foundation’s executive director, Emmy nominee David Bar Katz. A playwright, screenwriter and director, Bar Katz was a close friend of Hoffman’s; he discovered the actor’s body in 2014 after a heroin overdose.
Gardner’s play – described as “a tender exploration of questioning authority, suspending shame through intimacy and very bad advice” – will have staged readings at several nonprofit theaters around the country, also subsidized by the foundation. The award also includes playwright residencies with groups in the U.S. and the U.K.
“I had a really clear idea of a specific feeling I was trying to convey about letting someone intimately into what’s poisonous about yourself and all of the things that block you from doing that,” Brooklyn-based writer Gardner said in an interview last year, when the play was presented at the downtown space HERE Arts Center. “It‘s about a woman who starts spontaneously producing crude oil. She doesn’t do anything to cause it, and she has no way of stopping it, so she goes and lives in a swamp.
“She falls in love with someone who doesn’t care that it means being intimate with noxious material,” Gardner added. “People around her try to get her to leave the swamp. She ends up deciding she doesn’t have to stew in her own filth in order to avoid being commodified.”
The play was chosen through an anonymous reading process by a selection committee that included Bar Katz, Eric Bogosian, Thomas Bradshaw, Dominique Morriseau, John Ortiz, Jonathan Marc Sherman and Lucy Thurber. “They sought out plays that were challenging and plays that were, as the name would have it, relentlessly truthful,” according to the foundation’s announcement.
The finalists for this year’s award included One More Less by Kate Cortesi, Hamlet by Mia Fefferman by Mara Nelson-Greenberg and There’s Always the Hudson by Paola Lázaro. Previous Relentless Award winners include The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe (2015), Dance Nation by Clare Barron (2015), and Is God Is by Aleshea Harris (2016).