Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Humana Fest 2014

Hey, have you missed me?  Sorry it's taken me so long to post my thoughts about Humana this year - when I returned from Louisville, I was swamped by work, then I left again for a birthday trip home (which I'll blog about separately).  Brain cells weren't firing, the timing was never right, and so, no blogging!  I'll try to do better in the future... :)

I was very much looking forward to Humana Fest this year - I know a couple of this year's writers and I think, on the whole, the shows have gotten more interesting since Les Waters took over as artistic director.  I found this year's crop to be the strongest group since I started going to Actors Theatre in 2009.

Hey, I'm 50 too!
I have to admit I was a little green around the gills when we took off Friday morning.  After my big 5-0 party Thursday night (well, my FIRST party, ha ha), I was the teensiest bit hungover.  I started to eat a bagel before boarding the plane, but my stomach said, "oh, HELL no," so I stopped.  Thankfully, the flight itself was very smooth and I ate some ginger and got that last cocktail out of my system.  We arrived in time to have lunch at our favorite restaurant, Doc Crow's.  Some fried green tomatoes soon set me to rights.  OH, and since I mainly ate at the same restaurants as last year, and since I mainly ordered the same dishes I ate last year, I'll be skipping the food portion of this Humana report.  Though, if there's a huge clamoring to hear more about fried green tomatoes, sweet tea and po' boys, I could always change my mind.

photo credit: Bill Brymer
After a little post-lunch liedown, our first show was The Grown-Up by Jordan Harrison.  My work chums and I enjoyed this play very much.  When one of the opening lines is (and forgive me, after seeing the show almost two weeks ago, I'm heavily paraphrasing here), "If you don't believe in magic, there's something wrong with you," I'm IN.  I love plays that deal with the magic in everyday life and the everyday life in magic.  A charming and poignant story about a ten year old boy who takes his grandfather's tall tales about a magic doorknob to heart, I thought this play beautifully dealt with how swiftly life passes by, and how things can change in an instant while you wonder 'how did I get here?'  I really enjoyed the language, the ideas and the performances in this piece.  It was a great kick-off to the festival for me.

Our next play was the intern play, Remix 38.  Historically, I have had issues with the intern play, and this year was no exception.  I guess my mind just rebels against this style of piece, I have no idea why.  I thought most of the playlets went on way too long, though many of them had strong ideas as starting points.  I did enjoy the final piece, and was moderately entertained throughout.  Of course, another part of the problem is probably that we generally see this piece around 11pm.  I'm an old person.  That's awfully late for me to see a show.  Maybe I should try to see it earlier in the day next time...

photo credit: Michael Brosilow
Saturday morning, we started off with a panel discussion between Les Waters and director Anne Bogart.  I will admit to going into this discussion with some preconceived notions.  Most of them fell away during the conversation - I found Anne Bogart to be quite charming and self-deprecating and the way she described the piece she contributed to this year's festival made me look forward to seeing it (when I hadn't especially been looking forward to it previously).  I came out of that conversation in a good mood.  I came out of the production she directed, Steel Hammer (which we saw immediately after the conversation), in much less of a good mood.  I did not respond to this piece in the extreme.  Its message completely eluded me and I felt duped after hearing her description and then seeing the results.  Maybe that made the experience even worse, since my expectations had been raised.  I just found the intermissionless, nearly two hour experience, to be so pretentious and internalized, as if it was so good, only the actors themselves could truly appreciate their genius, that I, as an audience member, was completely unnecessary.  Maybe I was.  But that performance style does nothing for me.  This was probably the most divisive piece of the festival - many people felt as I did, and many people found it profound and moving.  I guess that what makes it art instead of science.  No one answer. 

Our next show (after a quick pub lunch) was Kimber Lee's brownsville (b-side for tray).  I know Kimber and have previously enjoyed reading and seeing her work.  I enjoyed this piece, though I thought the direction was very heavy handed yet altogether too leisurely for this kind of time-shifting play.  I thought the story about a family struggling to move on after the senseless death of a young family member was quite moving, and the performances were very touching.  Especially the performances of the young brother and sister - they were both profoundly charming and real and made me wish the story was exclusively about their relationship.  But I enjoyed the other characters, too, and was brought to tears at the end.  I would definitely like to see this play again, but directed by someone else.  I feel as if the real essence of the piece was obscured by not-great pacing and staging.  Though that could just have been me.

Next was a cute-enough play, Partners, by Dorothy Fortenberry.  I was reasonably entertained by this piece about two couples, who are pulled together and torn apart by love and money.  It had some witty dialogue and some thoughtful ideas, though I found the motivation of the main character to be completely incomprehensible.  To me, her actions were so utterly ridiculously stupid, I couldn't see why anyone would want to be in the same room with her, let alone be friends with her or married to her.  With a little more understanding of WHY she did the totally crazy thing she did, maybe I could've gotten behind her.  But I was so put off by her rather inconceivable actions, I just couldn't get past that.  I think my work chums enjoyed this one more than I did.

photo credit: Michael Brosilow
Our last play, on Sunday afternoon, was Lucas Hnath's The Christians.  I've seen several of Lucas's plays by now and I really enjoy his voice and the way he tells a story.  And this play was no exception - The Christians was my favorite piece of the weekend.  I am always interested in stories about faith and religion, since I'm always questioning my own, and this story was so compelling and utterly realistic.  He had me from the very start - the play begins as a church service, complete with choir and a pastor giving a sermon.  The set is on-point and looks like many contemporary churches I've seen.  In the pastor's first sermon, he starts telling a story and my brain begins to go in a million directions.  But the pastor goes into a completely DIFFERENT direction and hello, there we have my first brain blast.  I absolutely love when that happens.  There were many brain blasts throughout The Christians - I found it so thought-provoking and original.  The characters all were honest and sincere, no one's religious beliefs were ever mocked or satirized.  The ruminations were all truthful and interesting, often very funny, and ultimately very touching.  "Don't try to figure it out now, it will all make sense later" (more paraphrasing from me).  There were actually a lot of lines that just made me think "WOW."  I am so enamored of Lucas Hnath's writing - I can't wait to see what he brings us next.  And I'm also looking forward to next year's Humana Fest, the plays are now more my cup of tea (with exceptions, of course) and I'm enjoying the broader spectrum of stories that are being told.  Hurrah.
Work Chums!

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