The Playgoer: Louisville Dispatches

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Louisville Dispatches

Two detailed reviews of the Humana Festival, currently at Actors Theatre of Louisville: Isherwood and McNulty. They both more or less agree that the most notable plays are those by Naomi Iizuka and Carlos Murillo.

Neither write-up is super enthusiastic, though. Isherwood avoids incendiary remarks like last year's "why do playwrights need to invent new worlds" and leaves it at:

Superior artistry was mostly lacking at this year’s festival, unfortunately. The selections at the festival cannot be used as a barometer of contemporary American playwriting. New plays are produced by the dozens each year at regional theaters. But it was dispiriting to come away from immersion in new playwriting with little to celebrate.
There's a valid point here, I sense. Namely: why does the Humana festival get such props--and such unique national press attention!--when its record as of late boasts few if any breakthrough plays? (Maybe it helps that a major insurance corporation is the backer, and that money provides for a very aggressive pr offensive every March.)

I'm all about supporting new plays and supporting regional theatres. But as Isherwood says, that's happening all over. Why not search out the best new plays all over? Something in the Humana selection process--if we are to believe the recent accounts--seems to not be finding the best that could be out there.

That said, I myself enjoyed my one trip to Louisville two seasons ago. Caught one show, Carlyle Brown's "Pure Confidence," which was ok (strong central idea, weak production), not necessarily what I would program on a "best of" series, but worthy of being exhibited. Most of all I appreciated that there was a local audience in Louisville to come out and see (and enjoy!) these plays. No doubt the extra hype Humana publicity helps. So if it strengthens the interest and loyalty of their local audience, more power to 'em. But otherwise, any hopes of this festival representing a kind of "National Theatre" of new writing are misplaced.


Anonymous said...

It's hard for us theater critics to search out new plays all over because it's too expensive unless you can see six or eight at a shot. And these days only the very largest papers will pay to send their critics out into the world. For the rest of us (I'm a critic at a midsized daily) that makes things rough.

In any case, here's my Humana report:

Playgoer said...

Thanks for commenting, Elizabeth.

Indeed, I cannot blame critics for not getting out and about as much as I'm sure they'd like.

And you raise another important point--ATL is very SMART and savvy about scheduleing & packaging the festival so that critics can catch all the shows in one-weekend. They do a real blitz, funded by some of that Humana money, I'm sure. If regional theatres had half their marketing budget, they might be able to convince more editors to send critics to them, too.