The New Jewish Theatre received a record 21 nominations for the 2020 St. Louis Theatre Circle Awards for outstanding achievement in St. Louis Professional Theatre, the organization announced Feb. 7. 

Their previous high was 12 nominations for plays performed in 2014.

“I’m proud of all the work that the New Jewish Theatre does,” said Edward Coffield, artistic director of the theater company at the Jewish Community Center near Creve Coeur. “I felt very strongly that the three plays that were nominated had been exemplary work on our part and that they certainly deserved to be nominated, so it’s just lovely for that work to be recognized.”

The theatre received nine nominations for “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” four nominations for “Fully Committed” and eight nominations for “District Merchants.”

Coffield became artist director of the theatre in 2018, and this past season was his first year picking which plays it would produce. 

He said he wanted to do Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” because he wanted to honor the playwright, who died in August 2018. 

“I think ‘Brighton’ is his best play so that was a no-brainer,” said Coffield. 

He selected “Fully Committed,” a one-man comedy about an unemployed actor at a high-end New York restaurant, because he was looking for a piece for December “when there is a lot of competition for people’s attention,” he said.

“I always look for something that seems to be warm and funny and inviting, and I knew that play and the right actor for it,” said Coffield, who had been production manager at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis for 28 years. The play starred Will Bonfiglio, who was nominated for outstanding actor in a comedy. 

Coffield and Kathleen Sitzer, the previous longtime artistic director, had discussed the past success of “The Merchant of Venice” at the theatre and wanted to bring it back in some form. Playwright Aaron Posner adapted “District Merchants” from the Shakespeare play, setting it in Washington D.C. immediately after the Civil War. 

“In Aaron Posner’s version, a lot of the conversation is about what is happening racially after the Civil War, and I thought it was a parallel to the ongoing racial conversation in St. Louis,” said Coffield.

The award winners will be announced on Monday, March 30 at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University.