One of the signature events of the Humana Festival is the acting apprentice showcase. Commissioned by Actors Theatre from emerging contemporary playwrights and premiered during late night runs on the weekend when groups of college students attend the festival, it is custom designed for that young audience.
It is always built around a theme or motif, and this year’s iteration, “You Across From Me,” is built around people meeting from two sides of a question, often, but not always, from across a dinner table. “A Prologue,” in verse, by Jason Gray Platt is delivered by a disembodied head on a serving cart (Jack Schmitt) that introduces the program and the dining motif, with an attendant “Epilogue” at the finish.
One of the strongest pieces was Dipika Guha’s “A Date with the Family,” a recurring three-part short play spread throughout the evening. It offers up a 1950s nuclear family who could be next-door neighbors to Ozzie and Harriet. They enact a carefully orchestrated illustration of the white washed fantasy of Middle America that disintegrates into chaos over the course of the three scenes. Suzy Weller as Mother and Emily Kaplan as Daughter stand out for performances that carefully communicate with nuance the dawning awareness of two subjugated women.
Another piece of cultural examination made with pointed satirical humor was “Just Right,” by Platt, which shows the homogenization of diversity standards in a married couple’s interview with the Committee of an upscale Condominium Association. Bear Brummel and Andrea Abello humorously portray the couple at odds over the situation: he obsequious and she challenging and combative.
Comedy dominated the evening, but “Olive,” by Brian Otaño, was a subtle and enigmatic piece of a more serious intent, and was nicely played by Satya Chavez and Sergio Caetano. Less successful was “Mother’s Blessing” (Gupha again), a dark tableau of religious fundamentalism that felt out-of-place in the program. Rigel Harris effectively played the cold, unyielding matriarch without compromise, but the shift in tone disrupted the flow of the program.
One of my favorite performances of the night was Marika Proctor in Platt’s “Mabel and Clare.” An apparent first date is played out with no dialogue, as Proctor prepares her seesawing dinner table with ebullient glee before her date (Nayib Felix) arrives, only to see the evening deteriorate into calamitous slapstick. Both of the actors were good, but Proctor’s gift for physical comedy was a delight.
Brian Otaño’s “Diversity Inclusion” posits four job candidates in a final group interview with four executives in an examination of diversity politics in the workplace that was a clever and provocative idea that felt very underdeveloped and muddled by an off-point ending.
The finale was Jaclyn Backhaus’ “The National Foosball Championships,” an uproarious parody of any and all televised sports that was staged with great energy and featured hilarious turns from Joseph Miller and Emily Kleypas as the competing “athletes,” and Emily Kaplan and Calum Bedborough as equally combative TV commentators. The piece utilized the entire company as cheerleaders, coaches, etc., allowing them to strut their dexterity with physical comedy and ensuring that the program finished with a bang.
While “You Across From Me,” like so many of these showcases, is somewhat uneven, it is also undeniably entertaining. But it highlights the talent of the acting apprentices on limited terms, in short pieces that don’t allow for sustained performance and character development. For an example of that, see Suzy Weller’s complex work elsewhere in the Festival, in “Evocation in Visible Appearance.” This show runs just under 90 minutes with no intermission, moving at a swift pace driven by dynamic transitions characterized by lighting and music that conjures up a club atmosphere.
Keith Waits is the Managing Editor of arts-louisville.com
You Across From Me
March 23 – April 8, 2018
Part of the 42nd Humana Festival of New American Plays
More Humana Festival reviews can be found here.