Sunday, March 16, 2014

This Year’s Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville

The 38th edition runs through April 6

     The annual Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville (ATL) attracts theatergoers internationally because so many of the plays have premiered as part of this event before being produced around the world.  Though this institution is synonymous with the new script, the acting has been its trump
card in every production we’ve seen over the past fifteen years.  The Humana Festival reflects where the serious American play, accessible to a somewhat adventurous yet somewhat middle of the road audience, is going and right now that means the ninety-minute one-act.  None of this year’s selections has an intermission.

     Lisa and I saw The Christians by Lucas Hnath last week.  Hnath has had two earlier plays produced at ATL and this seems to be a trend.  Many of the playwrights have had a connection to ATL in the recent past.  This year’s selections have been developed through drafts either in Louisville or at other theatres around the country.  While this may result in a more finished product, it can also rob a new work of spontaneity since it can seem flat by the time it’s performed.

     The Christians has a set, lighting, and sound that astound in the most understated manner possible.  It’s like walking into a Big Box church, such as Cincinnati’s own Crossroads, and it seems to grow organically out of the Pamela Brown Auditorium.  Andrew Garman, Linda Powell, Larry Powell, Richard Henzel, and Emily Donahoe give complex, polished performances rooted in real, ambiguous feelings of religious faith.  

     The script possesses an accumulating power, both philosophically and in terms of suspense.  However, a sermon takes up the first twenty-five minutes and I found myself nodding off a couple of times.  Structurally, there isn’t a way around it.  That sermon sets off a firestorm and unless we hear it ourselves and can reflect upon it, then the other characters’ reactions won’t carry the same charge.  

     Check out the theatre’s website and consider a trip to Louisville.  There’s good eating at Havana Rumba, Hammerheads, or along Bardstown Road at Jack Fry’s, Mimosa Café, or many other restaurants including the theater's own Milkwood.

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