As of last weekend, all of the full-length productions have opened in the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. (A bill of ten-minute plays runs the final weekend only.) The festival is open through Sunday, April 6. That’s a mere week and a half to fit in a whole festival’s worth of world premiere plays. Here’s the schedule with ticket information.
Wondering which play(s) are worth your time? Have to choose only one of six shows? Don’t panic. Here’s your guide to the Humana Festival from someone who’s seen it all.
If you see one play in this festival, make it “brownsville song (b-side for tray).” Yes, it’s the family drama, but this is not another middle-class dining room drama where we blame Dad for withholding his love. “brownsville song (b-side for tray)” is set in the poor but vibrant Brownsville section of Brooklyn, and Tray is a promising student athlete who accidentally ends up a victim of neighborhood violence. It’s a powerful counterpoint to the expectation that young black men’s deaths are forgettable statistics, an unforgettable ode to tenacity, redemption and second chances. Also, fantastic sound design. A flawless production – and for a new play, that’s a huge feat – that overflows with rhythm and soul. Read my full review.
The Think Piece
Playwright Lucas Hnath is always good for a play that makes you think long and hard about opposing views. In “The Christians,” it’s theology – a pastor believes God has told him that, contrary to what his church teaches, hell is not real, and he wants to lead his church in a new direction. But can we trust his change of heart? It’s think-y and talk-y, yet full of true emotion. Read my full review.
The Contemporary Dramedy About Youngish People in Urban Centers
This year, it’s Dorothy Fortenberry’s “Partners.” It’s about two best friends, Clare and Ezra, who have plans to open a food truck together. Clare receives an unexpected and sizable amount of money, and her husband starts making plans. How will this windfall affect their relationship, not to mention her friendship with Ezra, who has his own financial issues as a struggling freelancer living with a boyfriend whose parents are wealthy? As Cyndi Lauper tells us, money changes everything. It’s like spying on the couple next door – you never knew they were this interesting. Read my full review.
Maybe you go to the theatre for wild flights of the imagination, not realism. Jordan Harrison’s “The Grown-Up” is a lyrical fantasy about a boy who turns a magic doorknob and ends up in an alternate reality that looks suspiciously like his future self. It’s utterly charming and just weird enough to keep you on your toes. Read my full review.
The Experimental Play
Looking for something you can’t get on TV? You want “Steel Hammer.” Okay, so, Anne Bogart’s SITI Company have been practicing their movement-based technique for decades now, so let’s just agree that the “experiment” works. But SITI Company productions share more DNA with performance art than most styles of contemporary theatre. Here, they take texts from four acclaimed playwrights and set it against the incredible contemporary compositions of Julia Wolfe, backed by Bang on a Can All-Stars, to explode the legend of John Henry into a million shimmering pieces. Read my full review.
The Apprentice Show
Look, the apprentice showcase can be a mixed bag. That’s what happens when you have at least five playwrights all riffing on one theme. This year, though, the theme is pretty esoteric – the writers were given elements from past Humana Festival plays and told to “remix” them into new work. Humana nerds can play BINGO looking for all of the references, but they’re buried deep. Two of the nine short plays are solid. The rest are just okay. But the energy of the young apprentice actors can’t be beat. They’re hungry, and this their shot. Also, if you work odd hours, their late-night and early weekend morning schedule can’t be beat. Read my full review.
Did Someone Say Party?
There are two big public parties held over the last two weekends of the Humana Festival.
Saturday, March 29: Soiree on the Belle of Louisville. Featuring performances by Motherlodge Live Arts Exchange. Find that actor you admired and tell her how awesome she is. Free, 10 p.m., dockside.
Saturday, April 5: Humana Festival Bash. It’s the big closing party and everyone will be there. Held right after the premiere of the Ten-Minute Plays (8 p.m.) and the presentation of major playwriting awards. Free, 9 p.m. in the Actors Theatre lobby.
For Extra Credit
So you’re a theatre nerd and you want more, more, more? You can hear the artists talk about their work at these events. They’re free, held at Actors Theatre, but tickets are required. Or you can watch the live stream on HowlRound TV.
“A Conversation with Anne Bogart,” director of “Steel Hammer” and SITI Company, moderated by artistic director Les Waters. Saturday, March 29, 10 a.m.
“Perspectives in Criticism” with Lauren Gunderson giving a playwright’s perspective on theatre criticism. Presented by the American Theatre Critics Association. Thursday, April 3, 2 p.m.
“The Art of Collective Invention,” four nationally-renowned theatre companies on collaboration. Friday, April 4, 1 p.m.