34th Humana Festival of New American Plays

by Dick Kerekes
Entertaining U once again had the opportunity to attend the Humana Festival of New American Plays. This was the 34th Festival and the 26th year we had been privileged to cover it.
When the Festival started, it was really the only one in the country and since then around 20 others have been launched all over the USA. Humana, the grand daddy of all the festivals, remains the largest and in my opinion the best. Where many festivals have one full production and several readings or workshops, I saw ten plays over the 4 days that were full produced with complete sets and costumes.
The Humana Foundation’s generous support from the beginning has made this a first class and exceptional theatre experience that has presented a wide array of new work that has been produced for national and international audiences. Several Jacksonville theatres have produced a number of the Humana Plays on local stages over the years.
In my early years of attendance I would do a summary of all the plays presented, but in the past few years, I focus on one or two plays that I consider the best and plays that I think would play well in North Florida. Most of my choices in the past have been successful and went on to New York runs and further success across the country.
The best play in 2010 was Phoenix by Scott Organ, the story of a couple in their 30s who meet for a one night stand , and discover many things about each other that are at times very funny, and other times almost heartbreaking. An exceptionally well written play, that was truly exceptionally acted by Suli Holum and Trey Lyford. I predict this one is going to New York in the near future.
My 2nd favorite was Sirens by Deborah Zoe Laufer. Also a comedy about a couple, but this time they are a middle-aged and celebrating a 25th anniversary. The play is very up to day, with husband Sam in trouble when wife Rose discovers he is friends with 167 women on Facebook, and meeting some of them to play Scrabble. A cruise in the Greek Islands has Sam meeting a siren of the sea when he falls over board. Also well written, and lots of fun and it will play well to adult audiences from 30 to 80.
The festival has done a couple musicals over the years and offered one this year, entitled The Cherry Sisters Revisited. Based on real people, the sisters were a vaudeville act so bad, and performed so poorly that audiences threw vegetables at them. They made to it New York, and drew large crowds for a while. The cast was talented but it is difficult even for good actors to portray poor acting and singing, and it is not very much fun to watch.
Over the years, the festival has produced some novelty plays that were done at locations outside of the three theatres that make up the Actors Theatre in Louisville. One year it was at a landfill, with a bulldozer as supporting character. I recall seeing a play at a gay bar, a meat packing plant and a car play. Yes, a short play performed in the back seat of a car parked in front of the theatre. Tickets were limited since only 2 persons could see the play at a time sitting in the back seat while the actors performed in the front seat.
In 2010 we were on the road again, several blocks up Main Street at the art galleries of the very unique 21c Museum Hotel. The play was called Heist and concerned a painting stolen at the opening of a new exhibit. The audience (us), stood the entire show as we were lead around to various galleries, by “police” and “security” trying to solve the crime. As performed by members of the Actors Apprentice Company, it was very funny, rather like a Saturday Night Live skit.
Each festival has four Ten-Minute plays that are selected from many submitted each year. (This year over 1400!). The 2010 productions were among the best I had seen in several years.
The play selection by Humana covers a wide range of theatre, including a couple that bordered on the absurdist theme. Fissures (lost and found) was by six playwrights exploring the subject of memory and remembering the past. It was confusing and a mish-mash of ideas that would have been better as a ten minute play than the very long one hour it lasted.
Method Gun by Kirk Lynn, explored the life of Stella Burden, who was a real life person who did actor training in New York in the l960s and 70s. She is famous for rehearsing A Streetcar Named Desire for nine months.!! This version has the actors rehearsing only the minor characters in the play using various performance training procedures. This is not community theatre material in my opinion but it may find life on college stages.
The festival was well attended and almost all the shows played to full houses. Theater is alive and well in Louisville Kentucky. Actors Theatre of Louisville produces plays all year around and there is always something going on in one of its three stages. If you are in the Louisville area, it is a must see for theatre lovers. They are located in downtown Louisville at 316 Main Street.
Thanks Humana and the staff of Actors for the wonderful hospitality, the interesting and provocative plays, and for all you do for American playwrights.