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Play on Eugene O’Neil’s Passion for Love, Career Wins Women Playwrights Prize

By Whitney Hale

Florida playwright Jo Morello has won the second biennial Prize for Women Playwrights presented by the Kentucky Women Writers Conference (KWWC) for her full-length play, E.G.O.: The Passions of Eugene Gladstone O'Neill. The prize carries a $500 cash award and a fully staged theatrical production at Balagula Theatre in Lexington, where it will be produced as a world premiere in September 2013. Morello's script was selected by American playwright, television writer and activist Kia Corthron from a pool of more than 170 scripts from playwrights residing in the U.S., Italy, France and Siberia.

E.G.O. dramatizes Eugene O'Neill's driving passions: for his second wife, Agnes; his third wife, Carlotta; and his overriding passion to be "an artist or nothing."

Jo Morello has won the second biennial Prize for Women Playwrights presented by the Kentucky Women Writers Conference (KWWC) for her full-length play, E.G.O.: The Passions of Eugene Gladstone O'Neill.Of the winning selection of E.G.O., Corthron said, "Many theatergoers are familiar with the work of legendary playwright Eugene O’Neill and his barrier-breaking political and aesthetic achievements. His final contribution, the breathtaking, posthumously produced 'Long Day’s Journey into Night,' depicts his harrowing young adulthood within a family racked by addiction. Morello’s E.G.O. picks up the journey, now placing an older and aging O’Neill in the spotlight by focusing on his two very different wives – one a writer in her own right who subjugates her own career for that of her husband, a decision she comes to rue; the other an actress who also sacrifices her career, a woman with goals and the fierce determination to realize them. Intermittently witty and chilling, Morello adeptly chronicles O’Neill’s twice-over matrimonial deterioration in all its agonizing reality, coupled with the familial addictions that continued to haunt him for the rest of his life."

Natasha Williams and Ryan Case, co-artistic directors of Balagula Theatre Company, will produce E.G.O. Louisville theater veteran Kathi E.B. Ellis will direct its world premiere production for eight performances in September.

Other finalists in the contest were Nancy Geyer of Houston, Texas, for The Reflection Pool; Clinnesha Sibley of Fayetteville, Ark., for Uprooted; and Deborah Yarchun of Iowa City, Iowa, for The Man in the Sukkah.

A lifelong writer, Morello became a playwright when her husband, playwright Jack Gilhooley, challenged her to combine her writing talent with her three-year experience as managing director of a summer stock theater company, and thus to create new work for the stage. She won two national contests with her first attempt and has continued to produce winning scripts ever since. Morello’s plays have been winners or finalists of dozens of competitions including three individual Artist Fellowships and three Artist Enhancement Grants from Florida's Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs; the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center Young People's Drama Project; two Choate Rosemary Hall Discovery contests; the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild Children’s Theatre competition; and Reston Community Players New Play Project. She has written full-length dramas, comedies, plays with music, historical plays and one-act, intergenerational plays for families and young audiences.

Morello's plays have been developed and produced in numerous venues across the country. In addition, she serves on the board of directors of the Eugene O’Neill Society and edits its newsletters. Her various articles have been published in American Theatre magazine, the Eugene O’Neill Review, New York Times regional newspapers and many others. The Philadelphia native operates a small public relations agency in Sarasota, Fla., where she has lived since 1986.

The Kentucky Women Writers Conference is an annual event known for bringing notable women writers to Lexington for readings, writing workshops and discussions. A program housed in the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences, the conference is made possible in part by continued community partnerships, including its primary venue, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. To see a full schedule of conference events during Sept. 20-21, visit

The conference awards a national playwriting prize to bring more scripts by women to the stage, especially those featuring majority-female casts. The winning play will be workshopped prior to its world premiere for a paying audience. The next submission period for the Prize for Women Playwrights is tentatively scheduled for May-November 2014.