The judges were actors Pauletta Washington, Crystal Dickinson, Brandon Dirden and James A. Williams, and scenic designer David Gallo. Also in attendance were Wilson’s widow and daughter.
Judging was based on projection, emotional depth, memorization, energy and characterization, but the polished performances Monday made the final selection difficult. Each contestant had successfully navigated at least three rounds in his or her home state to get to New York.
“It’s been thrilling in years past, but this one was really a strong group,” said Dickinson, who judged for the second straight year and who made her Broadway debut last year in “Clybourne Park.”
“What I was moved by was that there were these very young people — some 16 years old — able to encompass the volume of emotion and commitment that those monologues require.”
Gxuluwe, a senior, plans to attend Point Park University this fall and hopes to study journalism and theater. She won by performing Tonya’s monologue from “King Hedley II,” in which Tonya despairs at the idea of motherhood in a society where “the undertaker got so much business he don’t know what to do.”
The evening also featured a performance from musician Guy Davis and a scene from Wilson’s “Two Trains Running” performed by Roslyn Ruff and Billy Eugene Jones.
The first place winner got a $1,500 cash prize, the runner-up received $750 and the honorable mention winner took home $500. Each winner also became eligible for college scholarship opportunities, and everyone left New York with anthologies of Wilson’s work.