GLENN LONEY'S ARTS RAMBLES
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
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Report for The Humana Festival of March-April 2014
THIS WAS THE HUMANA THAT WAS… *
Big Bucks for Playwriting! American Theatre Loves the Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust! *
ATCA! Why Not Honor Designers, as Well as Playwrights? Here's a Modest Proposal: *
Ted Talk Therapy for FACTA Board Members? *
Meanwhile, Back To The Panels: Thinking About Social Media--Learning to Twitter & to Tweet… *
A Panel to Remember: The Art of Collective Invention--Who Needs a Playwright? *
Not Inhumane, but also Not Humana: Darting Across Main Street to the Whiskey Lofts… *
Welcome to Baron's Theatre in What Once Was Squirrelly's Magic Tea Room! *
Diana Grisanti & Steve Moulds' THE STRANGER & LUDLOW QUINN [★★★] *
And Now for Actors Theatre Louisville & The 38th Humana Festival of New American Plays! *
Kimber Lee's brownsville song (b side for tray) [★★★] *
Dorothy Fortenberry's PARTNERS [★★★] *
SITI's STEEL HAMMER [★★] *
Lucas Hnath's THE CHRISTIANS [★★★] *
Jordan Harrison's THE GROWN UP [★★★★] *
A Commissioned Committee's REMIX 38 [★★★★] *
The So Called TEN MINUTE PLAYS: *
Rachel Bonds' WINTER GAMES [★★★★] *
Jason Gray Platt's SOME PREPARED REMARKS (A History in Speech) [★★★] *
Gregory Hischak's POOR SHEM [★★★★] *
Not Just Another Festival, But Also The Annual Pow Wow of ATCA,
Or the American Theatre Critics Association, Plus Therapy for FATCA,
Not To Be Confused with Fat Cats, With Awards Add Ons & Panels Galore!
Ordinarily, Drama Critics--as well as Agents & Producers--from all over flock down to Louisville in Late March/Early April for the Industry Weekends of the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre Louisville.
But 2014 was Different: Humana hosted ATCA for its Annual Meeting.
Because ATCA stands for the American Theatre Critics Association, there were many more Play Reviewing Pros on hand than usual.
And, with an ATCA Conference to attend, Critics don't just watch New Plays & Scribble Notes on their Informed Reactions.
An Annual Feature is Perspectives in Criticism, usually offered by a Famous Drama Critic.
This year, however, the Perspective was presented by a Playwright, Lauren Gunderson, who told us that she sometimes has to do Seventeen Rewrites of a New Play until she thinks she may have Got It Right.
Later in the Weekend, Gunderson was given the Harold & Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for a Drama titled I & You.
Not only did Gunderson get a Check for $25,000--delivered in person by Maecenas Jim Steinberg--but she also received a Commemorative Plaque.
Two Runner Up Citations were given: to Christopher Demos Brown, for Fear Up Harsh, & to Martin Zimmerman, for Seven Spots on the Sun.
Each received Checks for $7,500, plus, of course, Commemorative Plaques.
The Utterly Charming "Emerging Playwright" Topher Payne won the Osborn New Play Award.
An Admirable Atlantan, Payne was cited for his Perfect Arrangement, staged in Washington, DC, in June 2013.
The Crux of this Drama is that Two Married Couples, who are working for the Department of State, are initially tasked with ferreting out Commies--it's the McCarthy Era--but then are asked to target Sexual Deviants.
As both Husbands are Gay & both Wives are Lesbians--in Sham Marriages--they Have a Problem.
Topher Payne saluted his Gay Marriage Partner for Supporting His Work in a very amusing Acceptance Speech.
Is Topher a truncation of Christopher?
With the recent formation of the Glenn Loney Charitable Trust, it seemed to Your Struggling Scribe that it might be a Good Idea to imitate Jim Steinberg's Excellent Example.
So here's what I wrote to Jay Handelman, Chairman of our ATCA Foundation, FATCA:
TO: Jay Handelman, Chairman, FACTA
SUBJECT: Draft Proposal for an Annual ACTA Glenn Loney Charitable Trust Award
PURPOSE: To Honor Outstanding American Stage, Costume, Video, & Lighting Designers.
PROPOSAL: Even with Excellent Casts, Brilliant Directors, & Ingenious Choreographers, a Play or a Musical cannot be brought Fully to Life without Outstanding Production Values.
Each Calendar Year, Individual ACTA Members may nominate an Outstanding Designer from a Non Profit Regional Theatre well known to them. This will also include Non Profit Institutional Theatres in New York City.
ACTA Nominators will contact both the Nominees & the Producing Theatres to provide Design Drawings, Production Photos, & other Supporting Materials as may be deemed necessary for the Awards Committee to choose the Outstanding Designer of the Year.
[Sound Design must necessarily be omitted, because it is not possible to provide Visual Documentation.]
AWARDS: For the Outstanding Designer, there will be a Cash Award, with a Certificate or Plaque, the amount to be determined by the Trustees of the Glenn Loney Charitable Trust.
There will also be Two Honorable Mentions, each with a Certificate or Plaque.
RATIONALE: Dr. Glenn Loney, Professor Emeritus of Theatre, CUNY Graduate Center, as a long standing ACTA Member & FACTA Donor, wishes to pay Tribute to Designers, not only because he began in Theatre as a Lighting Technician--becoming later a Lighting Designer--but also because for many years he reported regularly on all aspects of Design for such Publications as Theatre Arts, Theatre Crafts, Theatre Design & Technology, Entertainment Design, & The Educational Theatre Journal, as well as for Opera, Opera News, Opera Monthly, European Stages, Other Stages, Theatre Week, New Drama Forum, Dance Magazine, & The Los Angeles Times.
Well, we'll just wait & see what happens--
Instead of a regular Matter of Fact FATCA Board Meeting, Jay Handelman had arranged for us to have Professional Help.
A Charming Facilitator showed us a Ted Talk Video, in which a Brit called Simon showed us how to make a Circle that seemed to have WHY in its Center.
Discovering the Why of Why, it seems, will help you to Maximize Yourself & What You Are Doing.
At least, that was my Take Away…
I was, however, surprised at the Comments written down by some of my Colleagues: Some actually believe that what they write about Plays is Important to Readers!
The Bottom Line, however, with a Foundation that has Money to expend for some Kind of Purpose, is to be Sure the Cash is being spent on Something that will be eventually Beneficial.
For ATCA Members, it could well be Greater Funding for our ATCA Website so that Free Lancers can Post their Reviews there.
For some years, we have been funding Seminars for Young Critics.
This always seemed to me like Prepping the Future Competition. Most of us were already threatened by the imminent Death of Print…
Nonetheless, with Blogs abounding & Anyone with an Opinion & Free Tickets automatically a Drama Critic, it does seem a Good Idea to sponsor some Seminars about Reviewing Standards for Bloggers.
But what kind of a Review can you write with only 144 Characters?
Maybe Entirely New Standards will emerge…
There were some Excellent Presentations.
If your Newspaper or Magazine has Died--or is no longer interested in Play Reviews--how do you get People to log onto Your Reviewing Blog?
If you already know all about Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, &&&&&, there's No Point of a Recap here…
How about Collective Ensembles, developing New Works collectively?
Panelists: The Civilians [New York], The Hypocrites [Chicago], The Moving Company [Minneapolis], SITI [New York], The Mad Ones [New York].
Although SITI has, on occasion, created some Memorable Theatre Events--Big Love & that Joseph Cornell Meditation--The Civilians are my favorites for their focus on Important Social Issues.
They interview Real People, who sign Release Forms & stand by what they have said, even if they may Look Ridiculous or even Racist in the Finished Piece.
Their Exploration of Christianity at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs was both Instructive & Frightening…
As for Megachurches, The Civilians Got Their Number!
PASSING GLANCES AT SHOW SCENES SEEN:
There are still some Haunting Windowless Façades along Louisville's Main Street, but Things Are Looking Up!
The Louisville Slugger Factory/Museum is a Big Draw, as is the Art Hotel.
Then there's that Store Front which hides an actual Downtown Bourbon Distillery--The Evan Wiliams Experience--with Tasty Samples!
Catter Corner from Actors Theatre--at the Entry of that Bridge over the River into Romantic Ohio--there are the so called Whiskey Lofts, now being developed for various Arts Purposes, including Gallery Displays.
This Victorian Flavored Building--with a wonderful Hand Worked Staircase--stands on the Former Site of the Historic Galt House Hotel.
Currently, one of its most Visible & even Risible--in a really Funny Way--Arts Tenants is using Baron's Theatre.
The Mini Auditorium is Narrow & Elongated, equipped with a Variety of Chairs & Tables, & a Stage Space that can approximate Old Fashioned Scenery, as well as Projections & Videos.
What really makes this Space so Special is that the Walls are Plastered with Posters of Long Gone By Magicians!
Could they really have performed all the Remarkable Feats illustrated in Full Color?
How about being Buried Alive!
Baron's is Worth a Visit just to Study the Posters, which include some made for this Space's Original Proprietor: Squirrelly, who was not only a Magician, but also operated his Magic Tea Room in this Very Venue!
Before sampling Humana's Dramatic Wares, Critics were invited over to the Whiskey Lofts & Baron's Theatre to see:
What really got my attention--aside from the somewhat Demonic Ludlow Quinn -- was the Presence in this Curious Serial Drama of Erik Weisz!
That Name may mean Nothing to you, but--to Magicians, Contortionists, & Showmen--Erik was better known as Harry Houdini!
I had just seen Harry Houdini onstage in Manhattan, but there he was involved with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, desperately trying to contact His Mother on The Other Side & exposing Fraudulent Mediums at the same time.
Diana Grisanti & Steve Moulds have apparently been writing the Saga of Ludlow Quinn in Chapter Installments for the "First Fridays" of Theatre .
What we saw up onstage was The Complete Saga--with a Swirling Cast & a Torturous Narrative--in which, as far as I could understand it, Harry Houdini was still having Difficulties with his Eminently Jewish Mother.
Could I have dreamt it?
I thought Erik/Harry was looking for a Younger Human Body, into which he could Reincarnate…
As we were in Louisville, where a Huge Poster of Louisvillian Diane Sawyer hangs on a Building Façade, I suggested--if there were to be Further Chapters--that Houdini might want to occupy the Beautiful Sawyer Body.
That way, he could Teach His Tricks to Mike Nichols, who is Sawyer's Celebrated Hubby!
Customarily, when Theatre Critics prepare to depart Louisville for the Airport, there will be Packets of Scripts of all the New Humana Plays for Professional Perusal in the Privacy of Their Own Homes.
Somehow, in the Mad Scramble, I couldn't find my Scripts. Nor were they sent on after me, alas.
If you want to Quote some Good Dialogue, it's always Helpful to have an Accurate Source.
Unfortunately, I was not able to write this Report immediately on return from Kentucky.
A Medical Emergency took me off to Mount Sinai. The Hospital, not the Sacred Mountain…
Then I also found myself in not One Crunch Week, but Two!
The "Crunch" comes when Awards Nominators have to see--usually in Previews--all the New Shows that have Waited to Open until about Five Minutes before Nominations & Voting begin.
For Tony Nominators & Voters, this isn't so Demanding, for Only Broadway Productions are deemed worthy of an Annette Perry Award.
But, for the Outer Critics Circle & the Drama Desk, Off Broadway & Off Off Broadway also must be seen & considered.
So, now that I can finally sit down & think about what to write about the Humana Festival, I discover that I can remember the Plays only in the Broadest Outlines.
My Honored Mentor, the Late John Gassner, once reminded me: "Forgetting is also a Form of Criticism."
What I do remember most vividly is that None of the New Plays had an Intermission!
Does this have anything to do with the Short Attention Spans that result from Twittering & Tweeting?
Clearly, the Day of the Four Act Play is Over.
Even Walter Kerr's How's Your Second Act? no longer has Resonance when there are No Third Acts anymore.
But didn't F. Scott Fitzgerald warn us long ago that "…there are no Second Acts in American Lives…" or Something Like That?
Brownsville May Not Be as Dangerous as Bed Stuy, But It's No Brooklyn Heights or Park Slope…
Gun Control isn't going to stop Random Shootings anywhere in Brooklyn, but Young Tray is only 18 when he's felled by a Bullet in Brownsville, so his Song is especially Sad for those he leaves Behind.
Nonetheless, he's still able to make an Appearance in Kimber Lee's Intercutting Narrative.
Fighting off a Pain Killer, I got Lost somewhere in the Action, but it seemed to me that an Asian American Lady [Merrell, played by Jackie Chung] had married Tray's Dad, but that his Grandma wasn't in a Forgiving Mood when Merrell came to Mend Fences.
A Program Note explained: "…Time moves in Scattered Rhythms, Pivoting unpredictably between Before & After, as Tray's Loved Ones stumble through Loss, find Each Other, & Fight their Way toward Hope."
At first, I was Puzzled by the "b side" Usage: did that somehow mean "Beside"?
No, I was told: On a Phonograph Record, there's the A Side & the B Side.
If you have recorded a Hit Single, there still has to be something on the B Side, I guess.
So, maybe, Tray's Life wasn't exactly a Hit Single, especially as he was apparently felled by a Single Hit?
Meredith McDonough directed a Cast that included Cherene Snow [Lena], Sally Diallo [Devine], John Clarence Stewart [Tray], & Joshua Boone.
Food Trucks & Gay Marriages! What Is the Younger Generation Coming To? Gourmet Snacks?
Just because you are a Whiz in the Kitchen & can rustle up Delicious Dishes almost out of Nothing doesn't mean that your Food Truck Idea is going to Work Out.
Clare [Annie Purcell] is a Food Visionary & plans to open a Food Truck with her Gay Friend, Ezra [Kasey Mahaffey].
But she's also a Little Miss Fixit, urging Ezra to marry his African American Boyfriend, Brady [LeRoi McClain].
Well! It turns out that Brady's Idea of Commitment is to be Free, now & then, to Sleep Around!
Not a Good Idea--even with Condoms--when AIDS is still Out There.
Clare is married to Sensible Paul [David Ross], whose Patience is Limited.
Clare comes into a Lot of Money, so, suddenly, her Sense of Commitment is Tested.
The Program Notes suggest: "…they Decipher the Ongoing Mystery of how to be an Adult."
Well, There You Have It!
Lila Neugebauer directed.
John Henry Himself Could Not Keep Up the Pounding Pace of These Frenetic SITI Performers!
When Anne Bogart's SITI Company comes down to Louisville, it always seems to Confine itself to the Super Intimate Victor Jory Performance Space.
Perhaps this is to keep Anyone from Escaping?
Although Bogart had commissioned Four Different Playwrights to provide Performance Texts for her Exploration of the John Henry Story, somehow it All Sounded of a Piece: rather like some St. Vitus Inspired Dance of Death Holocaust.
Would Anyone be left Standing at the End?
John Henry--as any Schoolchild used to know--was that Spike Driving Railroad Man who could Out Pound any other man on the Job.
By now, John Henry has become almost Legendary, the Hero of many a Song & Story.
Nonetheless, that did not deter Kia Corthron, Will Power, Carl Hancock Rux, & Regina Taylor--all Actors Theatre Louisville Favorites--from Crafting their own Imaginings about John Henry.
I'm not sure, but, at one point, I thought I saw a Top Hatted Abe Lincoln walking through the Fray…
Recorded Music was provided by the Bang on a Can All Stars & the Trio Medieval.
I was Not Alone in my Bafflement about the Concept & Execution of this John Henry Mash up.
A Local Critic commented: "The Mystery is: How did a Fine Team turn a Great Concept into an Embarrassing Disaster?"
When You Are Operating a Megachurch, Be Very Careful About What You Preach To the Faithful!
Playwright Lucas Hnath--is the H Silent?--is really Onto Something!
How about a Megachurch Preacher suddenly telling his Faithful Flock that it's All a Crock?
If you are Tithing One Tenth--not to say One Twentieth--plus working in the Church's Christian Cafeteria, the Last Thing you want to hear is that God Is Dead. Or, maybe, only Out to Lunch…
We think we are in a Louisville Theatre, but, when the Lights Go Up, Lo & Behold, we are in Church, with Pastor Paul right up there in his Pastoral Chair, along with his Attractive Wife & African American Associate Pastor.
Behind them is a Massed Choir, singing Actual Religious Songs, complete with Soloist & Organist!
If we have read the Program Notes beforehand, we realize that we are Not Alone.
No, this is Pastor Paul's Megachurch, which he has built up from "a Modest Storefront."
There are, therefore, possibly Several Thousand Other Worshippers somewhere in the Gloom behind us.
Now, Pastor Paul has built His Church--Not upon Sand, as the Bible Warns Against--but upon the Blind Faith & often Desperate Hope of Heaven of Hundreds & Hundreds of Little People, who Fondly Believe that No Matter how Awful Their Lives are in the Here & Now, Heaven will be not only a Better Place, but also Their Just Reward!
Unfortunately for the Church's Operational Budget, this Sunday, Pastor Paul has decided to tell the Faithful that he has Lost His Faith. Or something like that…
Sad to Say, he has neglected to Share This Astonishment with his Stunned Wife.
Lucas Hnath has a Great Idea here, but it needs some Infrastructural Background: Did Pastor Paul just come to this Realization the Day Before?
Did it come to him in a Dream, Last Night?
Where did it come from, in fact?
If not a Revelation, did Pastor Paul work it out in his Mind?
Can the mere Act of Thinking make you an Atheist? Or an Agnostic?
Watching Pastor Paul make his Declaration, I was reminded of that Fateful Sunday when Ralph Waldo Emerson--Trained in Theology at Harvard University & Ordained as a Protestant Pastor--told his Astounded New England Congregation that he No Longer Believed & Stepped Down from His Pulpit.
Instead of an Angry Protestant God, Emerson had come to believe in the Idea of an Oversoul: No Heavenly Rewards there…
Ralph Waldo--as a Result of this Apostasy--was not invited to Speak at Harvard for Thirty Years.
But this gave him More Time to write Emerson's Essays.
Pastor Paul obviously has never been to Harvard, nor does he seem capable of writing even One Essay.
There are Several Problems about Pastor Paul as a Character:
Not least, that he doesn't seem, in the Pulpit, Charismatic.
How could he have built this Megachurch & Megabusiness if he is so lacking in Charisma?
This is not just the Fault of the Actor impersonating Pastor Paul [Andrew Garman]; the Fault is in the Playtext, as Developed.
Also, we really know nothing about Pastor Paul's Significant Other, who is identified by the Playwright only as "Wife."
Thus, the Action is entirely Too Schematic: These are not Real People; they are Types.
Perhaps, Christian Types?
Back to the Drawing Board! Or, perhaps, to the Computer?
Les Waters staged--which didn't require Much Movement, considering the Choir/Pulpit Placements of Stage Designer Dane Laffrey.
A Crystal Doorknob & a Boy's Entire Life Lived Almost in an Instant, with No Intermission!
The Program Notes suggest that this fascinating Script is "…a Time Bending, Sad, Funny Adventure about How to Survive Growing Up."
Actually, that is Not Quite Right, because, at the End, Kai will Not Survive…
See, there's this Crystal Doorknob, the Spectrum Glinting Facets of which may have set Ten Year Old Kai off on a Whirlwind Journey Through Life, culminating in a Wheelchair & an Award, with a Hollywood TV Writing Stint in between.
This--for me, at least--was the Most Promising of all the Humana Festival Productions.
Jordan Harrison might well want to develop his Time Travel Idea more fully.
He might even want to turn it into a TV Series!
Ken Rus Schmoll staged in Daniel Zimmerman's Minimal Environment.
What's All This Concern about Innocent Guantanamo Detainees Not Being Released Yet?
Almost every Sentence in the Conversational Exchanges of Quite Different Characters is Ended with the Naming of a Wrongly Detained Guantanamo Prisoner who has not yet been released.
The Wonder is that the Two Actors can pronounce those Muslim Names with such Fluency…
This is what happens when a Committee of Playwrights Remix Dramatic Contents & Contexts from Iconic Plays performed at Actors Theatre over the Humana Festival's 38 Year History.
The Commissioned Playwrights were Jackie Sibblies Drury, Idris Goodwin, Basil Kreimendahl, Justin Kuritzkes, & Amelia Roper.
All of them knew they were writing for the Acting Apprentice Company, so they had to keep Everything Young & Fresh. Also: Amusing, wherever Possible!
The Plays they have Plundered include: Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart, Jane Martin's Talking With…, José Rivera's Marisol, Naomi Iizka's Polaroid Stories, Naomi Wallace's The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek, Charles L. Mee's Big Love, & The Method Gun.
It is, of course, commonly believed that Jane Martin is really Jon Jory in Playwriting Drag.
Jon Jory is, of course, the Former Artistic Director of Actors Theatre Louisville, as well as Co Founder, with Arvin Brown, of the Long Wharf Theatre, up in New Haven, CT, where the Wharf wasn't Big Enough for Both of Them…
The Victor Jory Theatre of Actors Theatre Louisville is, in fact, named for Jon Jory's amiable Dad.
Time was when the Humana Festival's Ten Minute Plays actually were about Ten Minutes Long.
That one about the Pillsbury Doughboy remains a Favorite.
Jamie Prepares to Open the Bakery, But It's the Dead of Winter in a Small Town Near Scranton.
While I was watching this Mini Drama, I was both inspired & agitated, but now, as Memory Fails, I cannot tell you what Transpired or Why Mary Was Up All Night…
I did like it, though.
Thank God the Speaker Had Some Notes--Index Cards, Scraps of Paper--To Outline His Life!
Platt's Everyman doesn't spout Platitudes, but he does Cover a Lot of Territory--a Lifespan--as recorded on Bits & Pieces of Paper.
As a Former Professor of Public Speaking, my Heart went out to Platt's Anti Hero.
I did like it, though.
That Bulky Photocopier We Passed in the Actors Theatre Louisville Offices Takes a Bow Onstage.
Just Imagine! An HP Laser Printer Center Stage!
At least we didn't see Robot Actors animating the Printing Cycles…
I did like it, though.
Caricature of Glenn Loney in header is by Sam Norkin.
Copyright © Glenn Loney 2014. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney Arts Rambles." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.