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Playwright Donja R. Love wins Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Terrence McNally Award

The award comes with a $5,000 prize and guidance and support for Love’s play about the 1980s AIDS epidemic, "What Will Happen to All That Beauty?"

Playwright Donja R. Love, winner of the Philadelphia Theater Company's Terrence McNally Award.
Playwright Donja R. Love, winner of the Philadelphia Theater Company's Terrence McNally Award.Read moreBRANDON NICK

Donja R. Love has been named the winner of the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s newly revived Terrence McNally Award, for a play about the 1980s AIDS epidemic.

Named for the celebrated playwright, who had a long history with the company and who died in March 2020 from complications of COVID-19, the award comes with a $5,000 prize and guidance and dramaturgical support for Love’s play, What Will Happen to All That Beauty?

“Terrence McNally was unflinching in his quest to unearth the truth and create a softer space for those on the margins,” said Love in a statement released by PTC. “The same can be said for Black people living with HIV and those who’ve passed due to AIDS-related illness. We know our lives matter; we also know that our stories matter, too. Access and resources, which we’re seldom offered, are important in our stories being told. With winning this award, I can’t help but think that Terrence McNally’s legacy and the theater community agree. For that, I am deeply grateful.”

Love is a Southwest Philadelphia native who now lives in New York. According to PTC, “his work examines the forced absurdity of life” for those like himself who are Black, queer, and HIV-positive. In his application for the award, he described What Will Happen to All That Beauty? as “a long-overdue love letter to my community.”

“Donja Love wrote an unflinching, sprawling epic featuring intricately detailed characters that are so hungry, you find yourself trying to breathe for them,” said PTC producing artistic director Paige Price. “What Will Happen to All That Beauty? revisits the desperately inhumane handling of AIDS in the 1980s United States beautifully and painfully.”

Before McNally died, the company said, it had been in discussions with him and his husband, producer Tom Kirdahy, about reviving the award, which was last presented in 2015, to James Ijames. This year’s award was limited to applicants who were either Philadelphia natives or who work here. After a panel led by PTC resident artist Jeffrey Page reviewed more than 60 applications, Kirdahy joined in the judging of 11 finalists.

Paige Zubel was a runner-up and named PTC Playwriting Fellow for their work Actually, Honestly, Going to F— Die. Jarrett McCreary and Lori Felipe-Barkin received honorable mentions.

McNally’s relationship with PTC included the world premieres of Master Class, Golden Age, Some Men, and Unusual Acts of Devotion. The theater also featured the local premieres of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune; Lips Together, Teeth Apart; Love! Valour! Compassion!; and Mothers and Sons.