For 40 years, Actors Theatre of Louisville has presented the Humana Festival of New American Plays, attracting theatergoers, artists and industry professionals from across America and the world for productions of excellent new works. It has introduced nearly 450 plays, including three Pulitzer Prize winners: D.L. Coburn’s The Gin Game, Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart and Donald Margulies’ Dinner with Friends.
The 40th-annual festival commences this week, presenting six shows in rotating repertory on the theater’s three stages through April 10. The 100-mile drive to Louisville takes less than two hours; it’s definitely worth the effort to head south for a day or two and see a few of the shows. During the festival’s final weeks, it’s possible to buy a package for almost all of the productions during a weekend. Here’s a rundown of what’s on the docket:
Residence by Laura Jacqmin (March 2-April 10): The Chicago-based playwright has crafted a sharply observed story about a woman trying to get out of debt and put her life back on track. Maggie is a new mom going back to work, presently living in an extended-stay hotel in Arizona. She connects with some hotel employees and they discover that their lives are all on shaky ground. It’s a story about when to hang on and when to let go.
For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday by Sarah Ruhl (March 8-April 10): Playwright Ruhl’s shows have been on many Cincinnati stages (including The Clean House, Dead Man’s Cell Phone and Eurydice). This new script, commissioned by Actors Theatre, is about a woman who played Peter Pan at a children’s theater. Now, she and her siblings are gathering to say farewell to their dying father. They argue about politics, tell jokes and wonder what it might mean to grow up.
This Random World by Steven Dietz (March 11-April 10): Dietz is another writer whose plays have found audiences in Cincinnati (Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, Becky’s New Car, Fiction and Private Eyes, to name a few). A comedy about missed connections, his new play is about how we often travel parallel paths without noticing. It’s a funny and heartbreaking story about an ailing woman and her son and daughter.
Wellesley Girl by Brendan Pelsue (March 18-April 10): In the year 2465, what’s left of America is a handful of New England towns inside a wall. An army from elsewhere appears, and Congress bickers about the best way to proceed. Sometimes all you can do is flip a coin and hope that history proves you right. Might this shed some light on politics in 21st-century America?
Cardboard Piano by Hansol Jung (March 25-April 10): Jung is a native of South Korea, and her play is set in Uganda. Two young women, an American missionary’s daughter and a local teenager, secretly marry. But civil war surrounds them, and intolerance and violence are the order of the day. This is a serious drama about rebuilding, love and forgiveness.
Wondrous Strange by Martyna Majok, Meg Miroshnik, Jiehae Park and Jen Silverman (March 25-April 10): Every year, Actors Theatre commissions a set of imaginative playwrights to collaborate in developing a performance piece to feature the company’s apprentice actors. They write around a theme: This year the motivating concept is Kentucky ghost lore, leading to explorations of supernatural and uncanny events that will range from chilling and poignant to some that are unexpectedly funny.
The festival also features an annual bill of 10-minute plays, another showcase for the company’s acting apprentices working alongside some of the professional actors in the larger productions. This year’s “Tens” are Coffee Break by Tasha Gordon-Solmon, The Quintessence of Dust by Cory Hinkle and Trudy, Carolyn, Martha, and Regina Travel to Outer Space and Have a Pretty Terrible Time There by James Kennedy.
One final note: It’s worth observing that the Humana Foundation’s sponsorship of the festival is the largest and longest-running partnership between a corporation and a theater in the United States. (Perhaps I should disclose that I get my health care coverage from Humana, but I think my greatest health benefit is from the great theater the company has fostered during the past four decades.)
For more information: actorstheatre.org.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]