Christians

38th Humana Festival of New American Plays

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville attended the final week of the annual Humana Festival 2014 at Actors Theatre of Louisville, in Kentucky, which began February 26th and ended April 6th. This was the 38th consecutive year for the festival, which has introduced almost 450 new plays to American and international audiences, and has been made possible by a generous grant from the Humana Foundation. This year was extra special for a couple of reasons. First, it marks the 50th anniversary of the theatre’s presence as the foremost theatre in Louisville. In addition, the festival hosted the 2014 conference of the American Theatre Critics Association, whose members were provided with outstanding hospitality while seeing 6 productions, conducting business meetings, and participating in other sessions designed to sharpen their skills as critics and reviewers. EU has covered 27 of the 38 festivals, always with an eye on finding new plays for our local stages to present. Of the six productions we watched this year, we are of the opinion that three have great potential for future productions at theatres throughout the county.
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PARTNERS, by Dorothy Fortenberry, should be successful for a number of reasons. It has only four characters, who are friends, and are amiably having dinner together at the beginning of the play. They are working to build a secure future for themselves and have no apparent troubling conflicts. The plot is contemporary and filled with shifting dynamics, and brings up questions related to money, commitment, and gay marriage, an issue which will doubtless find its way into many upcoming plays. Clare is an aspiring chef, and lives with her husband Paul in a modest rented apartment. She is financially dependent, but is pursuing the possibility of starting a food truck business with her best friend Ezra, who is in a relationship with Brady. Clare is urging them to marry since it’s now legal in New York, but the two men have differing views about their expectations of married life. Clare and Paul have issues with their marriage as well, which are complicated by a financial windfall. The well-written script is both thought-provoking and humorous and holds the audience’s interest until the final climatic scene.
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BROWNSVILLE SONG (b-side for Tray), by Kimber Lee, is about an African-American teenager and the impact of his death on his family. The play opens with his grandmother Lena, who raised him, sitting center stage and not only lamenting his loss, but also raging that no one seems to care, really care, that he is gone. We meet Tray in flashbacks that alternate with scenes after his death. He is charming, handsome, a recent high school graduate, who hopes to go to college in the fall. He loves Lena and Devine, his young sister and tries to help Merrell, his stepmother, who wants to become a part of the family again after an absence of several years. Trey is a prize-winning boxer, works at Starbucks, and hangs out with his friends. But he’s certainly not perfect – he struggles with the constraints of living with Lena’s rules and struggles with writing the essay he needs to submit to be considered for a scholarship. We find that his death, related to Lena by his friend Junior, was the result of a senseless act of violence by others. The play is a very moving theatre piece that conveys the deep grief of a family, shared by the audience, after the loss of a young man with a positive attitude toward life and great potential.

THE CHRISTIANS, by Lucas Hnath, is a one-set production, the opulent interior of a successful mega-church with a congregation of thousands. Pastor Paul began this church as a storefront twenty years ago, and on this particular Sunday is celebrating the church’s prosperity and final payment of the mortgage. Then the Pastor delivers an impassioned sermon, which presents a radical doctrinal change as he announces there is no hell and explains his reasons for this conclusion in depth. Associate Pastor Joshua responds by announcing that he cannot accept this premise and is leaving the church, and, with any members willing to join him, will be starting a new church. The remainder of the play portrays the reactions of others as time progresses. The Pastor engages an Elder and one of the congregants in conversations using biblical references to support his position. A thought-provoking situation develops when he encounters resistance from his wife of many years; we’ll stop here, as saying more about the outcome would be a spoiler. Director Les Waters apparently recruited an entire church choir for the show, and there was a great deal of rousing spiritual music at the start of the play. This play would probably be particularly successful in the Bible Belt South. Actors Theatre presents a full season of seven other plays in their three theatres. They are located on Main Street, one block from the Ohio River. This area along Main Street has become a favorite of visitors to the city, which is a major mid-western destination for conventions. Within a five-block area anchored by Actors Theatre, you can find the Yum Center, home of University of Louisville’s basketball team, and also used for various concerts; the new Evan Williams Bourbon Experience with a wonderful tour that includes a multi-media presentation of the history of bourbon and a tasting bar; The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory; the Muhammad Ali Center; The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts; the Kentucky Science Center; and the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft. There are several fine hotels all within walking distance of Actors, and we understand more hotels are on the way. For more information on Actors Theatre see actorstheatre.org, and for what is happening in Louisville, check out arts-louisville.com.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

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