Arts and Humanities
10:02 am
Thu November 21, 2013

No Sophomore Slump for Slant Culture Theatre Festival

Gregory Maupin as Thomas Edison and Tony Dingman as Nicola Tesla in Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble's "On the Circuit."
Credit Sean Donaldson / Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble

The second annual Slant Culture Theatre Festival opened last week with a live-music launch party and kicked into high gear on Friday with multiple productions running in repertory in Walden Theatre. Each of the five producing partners — Walden, Savage Rose Classical Theatre, Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble, Theatre [502] and Louisville Improvisors — are staging a full production, in addition to about a dozen guest artists performing in and around the ten-day festival.

All shows happen at Walden Theatre (1123 Payne Street). Learn more about ticket packages and single-show options

I attended the festival last Friday and Saturday, as well as last night. Compared to the festival's inaugural year, it seems like the audiences are bigger, and people are hanging around the lobby bar longer listening to musicians perform and talking about the shows between curtain times. Slant Culture already feels like a legitimate destination buzzing with positive energy — show up, see what's playing and you won't be disappointed. 

I caught Friday's late-night showing of guest artist Pandora Productions' "This Is My Heart For You," the drama by Appalachian author Silas House about a small Eastern Kentucky town divided over an incident of anti-gay discrimination. The 35-seat black box Alt-Space puts the audience close to the intimate, emotional action of this play, though some of the audio in the show's a/v components seemed to be programmed for a much larger space. This play is an earnest, 360-degree exploration of what it means to be tolerant, or even accepting, of difference — not only of progressive politics and gay community members, but of the conservative evangelicals who often oppose them, too. In short: a conversation-starter about what it means to truly love your neighbor. Next shows: Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 p.m.

Saturday was a marathon day. Here's one wonderful thing about all of the Slant Culture shows I've seen — they're a bit shorter than most. So you can fit a lot into one day, even if you take a break for another commitment. My Saturday started at 3 p.m. with Savage Rose's one-act double-header of Theatre du Grand-Guignol shows, Maurice Level's "The Final Kiss" and Rene Berton's "Tics, or Doing the Deed" in the larger Nancy Niles Sexton Theater. Theatre du Grand-Guignol was the early 20th century Parisian home of slasher theatre and sex farces, and Savage Rose presented one of each. Do you prefer a horribly disfigured acid-attack survivor terrorizing his ex-fiancée or a saucy comedy of manners lampooning the sexual mores of the upper-middle class? The answer, of course, is yes. Each piece is rendered precisely and with high style. Of particular delight is Gerry Rose's sublime physical comedy in "Tics, or Doing the Deed," well worth the price of admission alone. In short: satisfying gore and sex in two short acts. Next shows: Thursday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 7 p.m.

After an evening break, I went back to the main stage for Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble's original comedy "On the Circuit." This two-hander features co-artistic producing directors Gregory Maupin and Tony Dingman as antagonists Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla, respectively. I have opinions about many things, but not Edison vs. Tesla.  I can leave this one to the rest of the Internet. But even without an intimate knowledge of the long-standing hipster feud between fans of each party, the humor in contrasting extroverted, messy Edison with precise, innovative Tesla stands on its own feet. Also, they mambo together. If there is a funnier thing than Edison and Tesla performing an earnest Vaudeville dance number, it's Dingman, who, without saying a word, can leave an audience in stitches just straightening up an office. In short: more geek-chic hilarity from one of the city's most innovative ensembles. Next shows: Saturday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.

After, I headed upstairs to the Alt-Space for Babyhorse Theatre Company's production of John Ford's 17th century tragedy "'Tis Pity She's a Whore." Babyhorse is quickly gaining a reputation for fearless theatre, and this production, directed by Kelli Fitzgibbon and Jon Becraft, who also created the adaptation, blows anything you might expect from "17th century tragedy" out of the water. But it's all fitting for this can't-end-well dark story of an incestuous relationship between brother and sister that culminates with flamboyant mutilation and murder. The production is staged in the dark, with only tiny flashlights given to audience members for lighting. The actors are clad in horrifying masks (a pig for the Friar, a baby-faced Noh mask for doomed heroine Annabella, etc.) and all dialog is run through distortion mics (which, like "This Is My Heart For You," could have used better volume control, but really, that's a minor quibble). In short: a Guillermo del Toro nightmare with a death metal soundtrack. Next show: Saturday, 10:30 p.m.

I went back one last time last night for Theatre [502]'s production of Will Eno's "Thom Pain (based on nothing)." Co-artistic directors Mike Brooks (director) and Gil Reyes (actor) teamed up for this one-man existential dilemma about heartbreaks, both original and fresh. There's not much to say about this brilliant monologue (a Pulitzer Prize finalist) that won't ruin it, but know that Reyes pulls no less than a tour de force in the 80-minute or so (with no intermission) solo act that is witty and utterly heartbreaking all at once. A must-see. In short: Human bodies full of bloody wonder and love. Next shows: Friday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m.

The festival carries on tonight through Sunday evening, and most shows are playing at least once, if not twice, between now and the final curtain. A full schedule is available online.

If you're a fan of one-person shows, festival producer Teresa Willis' "Eenie Meanie" has been gathering some great buzz (tonight, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m.), and Louisville Improvisors' Chris Anger brings his autobiographical "Dead Astronauts" (tonight, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m.) as well. Speaking of the Improvisors, their show is "Werking," (Friday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m.)  an exploration of the intersection of work and play, and Walden Theatre takes a slant look at games in "Inside the Pony Palace," a gender-bending show about football with an all-female cast (tonight, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m.). Also not to be missed is Marrow Street Theatre's meditative, melancholy "The Gardeners," a one-act memory play about robot love by Rachel White (Friday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m.) that first opened this summer at Tim Faulkner.