Arts and Culture

Actors Theatre of Louisville closed its 38th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays yesterday with the world premiere of three ten-minute plays in the Pamela Brown Auditorium. 

These short works joined the six full-length plays that opened throughout the six-week festival. Read all of WFPL’s coverage of the Humana Festival here

Two of the short plays centered around the workplace. In Gregory Hischak’s “Poor Shem,” three co-workers discover a gruesome surprise inside a jammed copier. Rachel Bonds’ “Winter Games” explores the relationship between two young bakery workers taking an early-morning smoke break. 

Directed by associate artistic director Meredith McDonough, “Poor Shem” is Hischak’s second appearance at Actors Theatre. His ten-minute play “Hygiene,” about the persistent parasite known as the minimalist composer, was seen first in the 2011 apprentice company “Tens” and then had its professional premiere in the 2011 Humana Festival. “Poor Shem” is similarly absurd and imaginative, but could have used another layer of interpersonal drama to connect the three surviving co-workers left at the copier. 

“Winter Games” is another pick-up from the apprentice company Tens, and this production, directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh, features the same apprentice company cast as its original production (that isn’t always the case). Current acting apprentices Julia Bynum and Jason Huff deliver charming performances as two bakery co-workers who find out they have more in common underneath the surface than they assumed. 

The strongest ten-minute play to open this weekend was Jason Gray Platt’s “Some Prepared Remarks (A History in Speech),” a one-man play depicting a single character giving public speeches from elementary school through his elderly years. Actor Bruce McKenzie, seen recently in the role of Stage Manager in artistic director Les Waters’ production of “Our Town,” performed the man’s speeches, from elementary school through the twilight years. Not every playwright can pack an entire life’s worth of dramatic satisfaction into ten scant minutes, but Platt pushes skillfully past the assumed boundaries of the genre, and his script is brought to life beautifully by McKenzie, whose presence is always good news for the Actors Theatre stage.

Before the tens opened, the American Theatre Critics honored four playwrights for works premiered in the last calendar year.

(Note: Erin Keane is a member of ATCA and a voting member of the new play award committee.) 

Playwright Lauren Gunderson won the $25,000 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for “I and You,” a drama about two high school students currently enjoying a National New Play Network rolling world premiere (it’s running at Indianapolis’ The Phoenix Theatre now). Steinberg/ATCA New Play Citations ($7,500 each) were awarded to Christopher Demos-Brown for his war hero drama “Fear Up Harsh” and Martin Zimmerman for the Latin American civil war fable “Seven Spots on the Sun.” Playwright Topher Payne won the Osborne Prize for emerging playwrights for his social comedy “Perfect Arrangement.” These awards are given to plays that have professional world premieres in the previous calendar year outside of New York City. Combined, the Steinberg/ATCA awards are the largest new play awards recognizing regional theatre premieres. 

Actors Theatre opens its 51st season September 2 with Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labors Lost.” Read more about the upcoming season