Entertaining U’s Dual Critics attended the critic’s weekend of the renowned Humana Festival, at Actors Theatre of Louisville on April 5, 6, 7. It had been two years since we last attended, but we were able to go this year since there were no plays opening that weekend in the North Florida area.
It was a very festive weekend throughout Louisville. Critics from all over the world had come to see what was new in theatre, and the University of Louisville was playing in the Final Four round of the NCAA’s basketball tournament on Saturday; the city was buzzing about this and the color red was in abundance.
We saw five full plays, three ten-minute plays, and a special production featuring all the Actors Theatre of Louisville apprentices, entitled “Sleep Rock Thy Brain” written by playwrights Rinne Groff, Lucas Hnath and Anne Washburn. The latter was held at a local elementary school since it included aerial choreography that required several of the participants to “fly” using high wire harnesses. Of the three separate one-act plays, our favorite was “nightnight” by Mr. Hnath, who had three astronauts assigned to repair the International Space Station taking cues from ground control; their mission is complicated by insomnia and distrust.
The play by Brandon Jacob-Jenkins entitled “Appropriate” was the play we think has the most potential to become successful in theatre circles across the country. The setting is an old mansion in Arkansas where the Lafayette family has gathered after their father’s death. They need to settle the estate and are planning to immediately sell all the contents, auction the house and grounds, and split the proceeds. The family members have conflicts that go back many years, which intensify as they learn the property is not as valuable as they had hoped. While going through the many possessions their late father has hoarded, they find an album of old photos depicting scenes of lynching. This leads to further conflicts, as they argue about the father’s character (did he even know he had the album?) and whether to sell the album, which is likely worth a substantial sum of money. With a cast of eight that includes a young boy and two teenagers, it is a play that could appeal to many theatres. The set by Antje Ellermann in the Pamela Brown Theatre was fabulous, and the home’s interior completely filled the stage.
“Gnit”, by Will Eno, was directed by Les Waters, the new Artistic Director for Actors Theatre and was certainly unique. Based on Ibsen’s 1867 classic, “Peer Gynt”, the various absurdities of human striving for self-discovery were portrayed brilliantly by Dan Waller as the leading character. This play may find a life on college stages with its many scenes and at times absurdist language and situations, while theatres and festivals with an interest in producing classics may also find it an interesting choice.
When is a performance not a play? Well, ” O Guru Guru Guru or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you” by Mallery Avidon begins with a lecture by the leading character played by Rebecca Hart, as she explains her disillusionment with her past experiences with ashram life and her spiritual seeking. The second part includes audience participation. Volunteers removed their shoes and sat on pillows on the floor, and listened to testimonials of adherents who had been changed by chanting, meditation, and yoga. The third part holds a surprise, which we’re not even going to hint at. Overall, we saw it more as a performance piece than as a play.
We always enjoy the Ten-Minute plays, although they almost always extend a bit longer. Of the three presented, “27 Ways I Didn’t Say “Hi” to Laurence Fishburne” was by far the best and the crowd favorite. Laurence Fishburne, (a well-known movie star of mainly action films) was played by Andy Lucien. Fishburne is back stage eating his lunch when twenty different cast members, all playing production assistant Jonathan Josephson who has written a script he hopes to persuade Fishburne to read, enter and exit the area in succession and react in various ways to being in the presence of the star. Written by Jonathan Josephson (who subtitled the play “Based on actual events … sort of), it was fast -paced, hilarious, and a great way the end the evening.
There are several new faces at the Festival in various positions, including as mentioned Les Waters as the Artistic Director, who in addition to “Gnit” also showed off his directing talents by directing the Ten-Minute play “ Two Conversations Overheard on Airplanes”, by Sarah Ruhl. Actors goes all out to make your theatre experience memorable, and we certainly always enjoy their hospitality.
New plays are the life blood of theatre, and the Humana Festival has nurtured creative playwrights for 37 years and they keep getting better and better. One thing that has not changed over the 37 years of this Festival is the financial support of the Humana Foundation. This is the longest partnership between a corporation and an arts group in America.
Actors will be celebrating their 50th anniversary next year. Besides the Humana Festival, the theatre produces a full slate of shows all year long in their three performance spaces in downtown Louisville. The theatre has an excellent gourmet restaurant, the Milkwood, on the premises that is available to the general public. Actors Theatre is located at West Main Street in Louisville, Kentucky. See actorsTheatre.org. for information and reservations.