Photo by Bill Brymer
Free range ghosts! Incompatible roommates! Trappist monks and intergalactic nuns! Down at Actors Theatre of Louisville, where the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays is underway, the drama is thick upon the ground. And unlike, say, a Shakespeare festival or a weekend at Burning Man, it’s hard to know what to expect on the Louisville stage.
The festival always offers a mixed bag of subject matter, and this year is no different. Dot, by Colman Domingo, tells the tale of an inner city family getting together for Christmas, with grown children grappling with aging parents. Jen Silverman’s The Roommate explores the challenge of making connections in midlife, and I Will Be Gone—Erin Courtney’s exploration of teenage loss and grief—is filled with haunting themes.
The weeks-long event generally includes a staging of something-or-other that’s profoundly whacked-out; this year that category will no doubt be filled by I Promised Myself to Live Faster. The piece, which opens March 27, was developed by Pig Iron Theatre Company—an absurdist troupe from Philadelphia. It seems to be (I’m reading between the lines) a sort of gay science fiction allegory. With nuns.
Usually the Humana festival tucks in some Kentucky content, too. This year, there are two pieces that give a nod to the bluegrass state. Charles Mees’ The Glory of the World, commissioned by the festival, celebrates the centennial of Thomas Merton. Merton, a Catholic writer and mystic with a deep affinity for Buddhist teachings, spent three decades in Kentucky’s Abbey of Gethsemane before his untimely accidental death (or assassination, some would say) during an Asian pilgrimage. Merton was a bit of a theological rock star back in the 1950s and ’60s, but it’ll be interesting to see how Mees makes a vibrant narrative out of the life of a guy who was, basically, contemplative.
On a brisker note, Actors Theatre interns will show their stuff in That High Lonesome Sound—a celebration of the commonwealth’s uncommon wealth of Bluegrass music. The festival’s six productions open sequentially throughout this month and continue performing in rotating repertoire until April 12, so there’s still time for you to plan a theater road trip. If you go, you might want to include a nosh at Hillbilly Tea Shack; rumor has it that’s where the actors hang out.
39th Humana Festival Of New American Plays, March 4–April 12, actorstheatre.org/humana-festival-of-new-american-plays/