CRAMMED into a tight weekend recently, the 16th Annual Humana
Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville
sliced through a healthy cross section of prevailing American
Wading through the varied work of 11 playwrights, one could feel
currents in the culture at large and the preoccupation with
mortality in particular.
The Humana Festival is a satisfying event because the acting is
universally good (sometimes very good) and the productions sound
(sometimes super). Because a variety of styles and ideas bump
elbows in such close quarters, you leave feeling a little closer to
the pulse of theatrical happenings. Which is not to say that those
happenings are necessarily satisfying in themselves. Still, the
festival offers a sparkling, friendly atmosphere in which to
consider new (and used) theatrical ideas.
Trilogy of short plays
Among the most successful plays were Jane Anderson's "Lynette at
3 A.M.," and Lanford Wilson's "Eukiah," two of three short plays.
Condensed into 20-odd minutes, Ms. Anderson's wakeful Lynette
contemplates love and death in the wee hours of the morning as her
lover pragmatically tries to sleep through her musings in
anticipation of the workaday world. In an upright bed (as if we
were looking down on it from above), the winsome Lynette (Anne
O'Sullivan) struggles with mortality as Bobby (V. Craig
Heidenreich) struggles for oblivion. Lively and compassionate, the
comedy tickles us and poignantly captures the loneliness of a woman
afraid of death. We certainly understand her plight. But though
Lynette asks all the right questions, Anderson leaves her with only
sexual fantasies and the longing for true intimacy to ease her long
"Eukiah" is as dark a murder story as you're likely to find. A
retarded youth has overheard a plot to kill the race horses he
tends. Another employee, Butch (played with frigid assurance by
Mark Shannon), tries to lure Eukiah out of his hiding place in an
airplane hanger to reassure him no such plan exists. Has the boy
merely misunderstood a harmless conversation or has he misplaced
his affection and his trust? The frightening thing about this piece
is the indifferent brutality it unmasks. In Butch's long speech to
Eukiah in the shadows, he manipulates the boy's best instincts.
Here is a fully developed portrait of evil in Butch's cool betrayal
of Eukiah - evil that is both complex and devoid of passion. In a
very few minutes, 'Lynette at 3 A.M.' and 'Eukiah' created a whole
universe of character and trouble.
Joyce Carol Oates's "Pro- cedure" completed the trilogy of
shorts. One nurse uses hospital procedure to distance herself from
death. The trouble is, can she feel anything at all about life? So
icy and so flat is this piece, you could skate on it.
Ross MacLean's depressing "Hyaena" places a strangely solicitous
man in the hospital room of a querulous dying man. As the old man's
wife and friends desert him, the stranger alternately tries to
console and undermine his dim hope. The stranger wants something
from the old man - he keeps watch over the patient out of some
bizarre need of his own. He may take whatever baubles he can
scavenge from the dying, but the "Hyaena" (as the old man calls
him) wants something besides the ring on the patient's hand, the
uneaten salad on his dinner tray, or the old coat in the closet.
The Hyaena wants some assurance of immortality. It's a long way to
go for very little insight.
The most ambitious and arguably the most interesting play of the
festival was Jose Rivera's failed surreal extravaganza, "Marisol."
The first act promises so much, what with an angel revealing to a
fragile Puerto Rican secretary that there will be war in heaven and
apocalypse on earth. …