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By Glenn Loney, March 26, 1999

Michael Graves' classically inspired Humana Building in Louisville, a Tribute to the Falls of the Ohio River. Photo: Copyright ©—Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
[01] Michael Graves' Magnificent Humana Building
[02] New Visions in Old Kentucky
[03] David Rambo's "God's Man in Texas"
[04] Arthur Kopit's "Y2K" Computer Horror-Show
[05] Cabin-Fever with Anne Bogart's "Cabin Pressure"
[06] "The Cockighter" in Col. Sanders' Hometown
[07] Wacko Screwballs in "Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls'
[08] Ten-Minute Plays: "Life Under Thirty"
[09] Starting Solo: Apprentice Monologues
[10] Richard Dresser's Car Play: "What Are You Afraid Of?"
[11] Festival Phone Plays
[12] T-Shirt Plays by Wasserstein, Kushner & Company
[13] Designer Set-Models for New Plays
[14] ATCA Award to Lanford Wilson for "Book of Days"
[15] Celebrity Panels on Playwriting & Designing

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And Now for a Photo of Our Sponsor—HUMANA!

The annual Humana Festival of New American Plays is sponsored by the Humana Corporation, a managed health-care provider.

Its "signature" Headquarters Building, designed by Michael Graves, is just a short stroll down Main Street from Actors Theatre of Louisville, which mounts this amazing playwrights' showcase every spring.

To many who admire Postmodernist Architecture, Graves' unusual 1982 tower is better known than the actual functions of the corporation that commissioned it.

This may seem odd if one accepts the quintessential Modernist Maxim of Frank Lloyd Wright: "Form follows Function." But some major Postmodernists have shown relatively little interest in that advice—which Wright didn't even follow himself when he designed the Guggenheim Museum.

Fortunately for Humana's corporate image, its generous support of the Festival—and of Actors Theatre—for so many years has generated a lot of goodwill and wider acquaintance with its various functions in the health-care field.

And Michael Graves' ingenious use of varied forms, textures, and shades of color on the exterior made this 27-story high-rise building effectively a Landmark the day it was completed.

There are five different colors of marble used inside and out: pink, red, green, grey, and black. These were quarried in Finland, Angola, Spain, Brazil, India, and Italy.

The Humana Building has frequently been photographed, often by outstanding architectural photographers. Aside from some outstanding productions on the Actors Theatre's stages, it is one of the most photogenic things in Louisville.

Its entrance Loggia features a 50-foot waterfall. This is "the architect's thematic gesture to the Ohio River," according to the brochure Humana makes available to those who want to tour the facility.

Louisville—named for one of the French King Louies—was founded over 200 years ago at the Falls of the Ohio River. But it's Indiana you find on the other side when you cross the bridge.

Graves didn't stop with this welcome waterfall—it can get very hot in Louisville in summer—as a salute to the Ohio River. Which occasionally floods the lower areas of the city.

High above Main Street, looking out over the Ohio, is a remarkable Terrace on the 25th floor. Its facade looks like immense entrance pylons for some Pharaonic Temple in Ancient Egypt.

To quote again from the Humana brochure: "The large pyramid-like shapes extending to the terrace are representative of the dam at the Falls of the Ohio. They are also utilitarian: easily accessed from the reception hall, they are used for storage."

In this case, Function has to fit into the demands of Form. But Frank Lloyd Wright is dead, and this is a Showcase Age, after all!

Thoroughly Functional, however, is the steel gridwork truss which supports the Terrace. It represents the bridges spanning the Ohio!

When Princeton-based Michael Graves first achieved prominence—and stirred up a lot of controversy—for the New Look he was giving high-rise office-blocks, it didn't require much imagination to see in them the Spirit of Art Deco revived.

As Editor of The Modernist, your reporter noted that apparent source of inspiration in several issues. But when Graves was invited to discuss his work for the Art Deco Society of New York, he opened his presentation with a series of slides of Tuscan Villas and Florentine Renaissance Facades. Not to overlook the Baths of Caracalla.

Paired with some of his major buildings—and his drawings for the projected new Clos Pegas Winery complex in California—it was immediately clear that these historic Italian influences have indeed inspired him.

He asked me to give the Recycled Art Deco comparisons a rest.

Graves' dressing the Humana's central Rotunda with two ancient statues of Roman Goddesses underlines his own sense of architectural origins in his designs.

New Visions in Old Kentucky

Only a couple of blocks down Main Street from Actors Theatre in Louisville is the Slugger Museum. It makes its presence known by a huge Baseball Bat which can be seen from a distance.

Not far from the City Center is Churchill Downs, scene of the annual Kentucky Derby, soon to be run. Even when there are no races, the Derby Museum provides a strikingly designed evocation of this world-famous Contest of Thoroughbreds. Winning the Derby is one of Horse-Racing's Triple Crown Prizes.

Louisville has long been honored for its dedication to sporting events. But it has also become well known nationwide as an important Theatre Center, thanks to its Humana Festival.

For the 23rd Annual Festival of New American Plays, theatre-people and drama-critics from major American cities, theatres, and publications thronged the sidewalks, foyers, and the three arenas of the Actors Theatre of Louisville.

There were also both practitioners and reviewers from abroad—figuratively a Broad Spectrum. Interesting plays shown initially at the Humana Festival soon find their way onto European stages. And, of course, they are often widely shown across the United States as well.

Because the festival traditionally opens on Thursday—with an elegant reception—and continues with generally easy camaraderie around the theatres until Sunday evening, this is one of the few occasions when American theatre critics and theatre artists can really get acquainted.

Attacking FORT GOD:
David Rambo's "God's Man in Texas"

Texas isn't the only place where Salvation is Big Business. In the suburbs of Mobile, Alabama, there is an immense Fundamentalist Christian Church which an apprehensive Jewish friend calls "Fort God."

Indeed, if it had some cannons poking out its stained-glass windows, it could strike mortal terror into all who deny the Divinity of Christ and who refuse to accept Him as their Personal Savior.

In David Rambo's compelling new play, "God's Man in Texas," people are not converted by cannons—or even at gun-point. Dr. Philip Gottschall—a folksy, vigorous octogenarian Baptist minister—does it with swimming-pools, bowling-alleys, Christian Weight-Loss, and, yes, even Bible Study Groups.

But Dr. Gottschall—his name even implies "God's All"—is uneasy underneath all his customary cheeriness and boosterism. Every day brings him nearer to that Great Baptist Church in the sky.

Baptists, like Congregationalists and Methodists, do not permit pastors to pick their own successors. Local church boards do that, but Dr. Gottschall [William McNulty] is not about to hand over the Christian real-estate empire he has built to just anyone who takes the fancy of his church board of rich and powerful Movers & Shakers.

So he has summoned the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah "Jerry" Mears [V Craig Heidenreich] to preach a service at his immense church with its huge congregation. Jerry is in effect auditioning as his eventual successor. This position is also eagerly, if invisibly, sought by his former Baylor University room-mate.

Rambo's drama is something of a tour-de-force in that he has unfolded his absorbing fable with only three characters. The third is Hugo Taney [Bob Burrus], a former druggie, drop-out, and general Hell-Raiser.

Hugo was saved on a street-corner by Jerry's long-vanished father, a sales-promotion expert who preached on the side as "God's Rabid Dog." Reborn in Christ, Hugo is now the eyes and ears of Dr. & Mrs. Gottschall—as well as the audio technician for the three Sunday services.

One service is broadcast on TV, which makes the charismatic young Jerry a prime candidate for the Houston pulpit. He has already built a large congregation and a TV following elsewhere in Texas. The Gottschalls have had their eye on him.

Initially, Jerry's "Closing the Sale" metaphors for Winning Souls for Christ—borrowed from his father's sales-techniques—offend both Hugo and Dr. Gottschall. The Good Doctor knows all about merchandising, but he seldom lets it show.

It is greatly to Rambo's credit that he did not treat his characters as objects of bitter satire. Jerry reveals himself as eager and ambitious, but he has to be prodded by Dr. Gottschall to do those little things which will ingratiate him with the congregation.

Even with his preoccupation with power, success, and new plans for further real-estate and congregational developments, Dr. Gottschall is still sincere in his belief and in his calling as a minister. But building Crystal Cathedrals and counting heads and dollars has clouded what must once have been a clear vision of a Calling.

In Rambo's fascinating play, Jerry Mears makes a journey from the worldly lures of TV ministries and huge congregations to a card-table in a small room. He knows he truly has a Calling to be a Minister of Christ.

But he had to find himself first. And remember two of Jesus' Precepts: "My Kingdom is not of this world." and "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto Me."

Jerry even gets George Bush to eat broccoli!

How rabid Fundamentalists will react to Rambo's drama and spiritual broccoli—if they even bother to see it—would be interesting to discover. There is no question of an attack on Faith in the play—only of a critique of a love of the material eclipsing a love of the Divine.

For those who find TV ministries and the millions who follow them—and send in millions of dollars—something of a Modern Mystery, "God's Man in Texas" may offer a partial explanation.

When the film version comes out, you will get to see the Faithful and the Saved responding to the avuncular Dr. Gottschall and the charismatic Jerry.

But that still won't explain the phenomenon entirely. Don't leave God and Christ out of the equation for success in building a Christian Empire here on earth.

John Dillon staged his trio deftly in Paul Owen's wood-paneled unit-set. Mimi Jordan Sherin lit it expertly, and Michael Oberle provided attractive outfits in keeping with the collection-plate takings at this Texas Fort God.

Has Arthur Kopit Got a Pilot for You!
"Y2K"—The Tip of the Computer-Horror Iceberg

COMPUTER DISASTER--Lucinda Faraldo & Graeme Malcolm agonize in Arthur Kopit's new "Y2K" thriller. Photo: Richard C. Trigg.
The doom-laden prophecies of Millennial Disaster—just because some computer programmers long-ago neglected to prefix this century's dates with 19—are nothing compared to the future playwright Arthur Kopit foresees.

In his "Y2K," premiered at Actors Theatre, Kopit rehearses the unlimited and unending horrors which can descend on anyone who owns a laptop or a home PC.

Tautly staged by Bob Balaban, this long one-act could serve as a pilot for a shuddering series of TV dramas of Fear & Trembling in the Computer Age.

There is enough initial techno-babble in Kopit's text to strike terror into the hearts of any who have ever lost as much as three pages of text forever—even without having hit the Delete key.

In "Y2K," however, the problem is not malfunctions of hardware or software. It is a deliberate tampering with the computer files—and destructive invasion of the lives—of a happy and successful couple.

The least of the horrors in Kopit's play is the sudden disappearance from all files of every penny the couple had in the bank.

Some Louisville spectators simply could not understand how this could happen. A friend confided that it couldn't happen to him for he does not bank by computer.

Maybe not. But banks do—and that's the beginning of the problem that the advent of the Millennium promises.

Kopit's manic, confused Anti-Hero—called Costa Astrakhan Caka BCuzICan—is an oversexed amoral teen-age Hacker who can break any code. Invade any files.

And alter them beyond repair—or add to them devastating, incriminating information and visuals.

Manufacture and sale of Child Pornography is the new occupation he foists on the unsuspecting publisher Joseph Elliot [Graeme Malcolm].

Having once met Elliot's attractive second-wife, Joanne Summerhays [Lucinda Faraldo] at a tutorial dinner in their home, Costa fantasizes a torrid affair.

His invention for her is a series of pornographic videos on-line, in which she takes a starring role.

Unless you are already an expert at manipulating photos in what used to be Adobe Photoshop, it may be impossible to imagine what can be done to apparently innocent images.

By now, computer-animation in major films should have convinced even the computer-ignorant that this technology has great power for Entertainment or Evil.

Dallas Roberts was bizarre and compelling as the blue-streaked Hacker Freak.

He lacks the signature stutter of Austin Pendelton. But his timbre, quaver, and voice-patterns otherwise resemble those of the star who first animated Arthur Kopit's initial success, "Oh, Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet, and I'm Feeling So Sad."

Pip Gordon's lighting was especially important in lending menace to this unusual work. Paul Owen's metal-cage setting was a visual metaphor whose meaning only slowly emerged. Nanzi J. Adzima's costumes were understated—except for the Hacker.

During the festival, Kopit told a colleague that this is the final form of his intermissionless script.

As it now stands, however, it seems only a preparation for worse—or an unimaginable better—to come. Its current resolution—that Costa will take care of the couple he has destroyed—seems another of his dangerous fantasies.

Kopit apparently wrote "Y2K" in haste. He might now repent at leisure that he hasn't envisioned the endless possibilities in this theme.

Or perhaps he has. And doesn't want to be chained forever to a TV money-maker.

After all, someone still has to write The Great American Play!

Fasten Your Seatbelts!
Anne Bogart's "Cabin Pressure"

THE SITI SITTING--Anne Bogart's talented troops perform "Cabin Pressure." Photo: Richard C. Trigg.
Actually, Anne Bogart's new opus, "Cabin Pressure," is not about using your Delta Frequent Flier Miles.

As developed by her SITI Company, it is more apt to give audiences cabin-fever. And, as staged in the intimate Victor Jory Theatre—from which there is no easy escape once a performance is underway—that was certainly my reaction.

Even before we entered the theatre, we heard some loud and raucous lines of Noël Coward's "Private Lives" being forcefully rehearsed. We were prevented from taking our seats at the accustomed time.

I knew this was not because Dylan Thomas was in the basement completing "Under Milk Wood" just before curtain-time. This purpose-planned delay was one of those Grotowski effects: The longer they wait, the more their expectations will mount!'

Thomas, Coward, and Grotowski are all dead. But the legacy of the latter lives one. As does that of Richard Schechner, though he seldom now puts it into practice.

He can leave that to Anne Bogart.

Indeed, during one of the discussion-sessions in the actual production—in which cast-members offered personal reactions to performances—I was much reminded of several intellectual-recesses in Schechner's watershed avant-garde theatre-event, "Dionysus in '69," in which actors were encouraged to discuss their cats and other pets.

Only afterward did I learn that "Cabin Pressure" was developed over two years of SITI cast-members talking with Actors Theatre audiences. The no-brained and hare-brained comments which they uttered had apparently been abstracted from all this rich treasure of Oral History.

This was the Oreo-filling between seemingly endless and certainly strident repetitions—with some slight variations—of Coward's "Private Lives" and Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Even the audience-comments were recycled. That certainly made the point that, yes, we actors do do this over and over and over again. Preferably without too much variation.

As was the case with Schechner and Grotowski in their day, this was received by many as only slightly less impressive than Charlton Heston descending from Mount Sinai with the Tablets of the Law.

I must record my admiration, however, for the considerable talents and physical attractions of Will Bond, Ellen Lauren, Kelly Maurer, Barney O'Hanlon, and Stephen Webber.

It would be great to see them in a real play. Something by Coward or Albee, perhaps?

As for "Cabin Pressure," I was more impressed by the people who were impressed by it. One great admirer—and of Anne Bogart's talents and methods in general—was Brian McMaster, Artistic Director of the Edinburgh Festival.

My question was: What will the Edinburgh Festival public make of the hash of Louisville audience-comments?

Wouldn't it make more sense to invite Bogart and SITI to Edinburgh this August—so they can play it all back at Festival 2000?

Will Bond in a kilt would be a hoot. Ellen Lauren with a bagpipe ditto.

Let Them Eat Haggis!

Or Bogart could recycle Diana Vreeland and Andy Warhol for Edinburgh, as she did recently in "The Culture of Desire" at the New York Theatre Workshop.

How about an Anne Bogart "take" on That Other Diana? Along with Camilla & Charles and Monica & Bill? And Linda & Lucienne?

Or Liddy Dole Pineapple, Viagra, & Bob?

Just thinking about future adventures in cutting-edge avant-garde theatre. None of these ideas is under copyright protection.

In the City of Col. Sanders:
"The Cockfighter" Not Fast Food

ALL ABOUT COCKS & CHICKENS--Phillip Clark, Danny Seckel, and Ellen McQueen in "Cockfighter." Photo: Richard C. Trigg.
They call it Kansas City Fried Chicken, but Col. Harlan Sanders is buried in Louisville, not in KC. This came often to mind as fighting cocks were generically identified as chickens.

Vincent Murphy has adapted and staged Frank Manley's rite-of-passage novel, "The Cockfighter." But this is no Steinbeckian "Red Pony."

Even the characters seemed generic. Philip Clark was the Good-Old-Boy "Father." Danny Seckel was "The Boy."

Ellen McQueen had to play both "Mother" and her layabout, shiftless, doofus, de-toxed brother Homer. She did both very well, but was this stunt really necessary?

In a rep company, they couldn't afford another actor? Possibly Murphy wanted to underscore emotional DNA differences between Father's bloodline and Mother's?

The Boy obviously takes after his mother, while his Father wants him to be a Real Man. The kind of guy Tom Selleck—new spokesman for the National Rifle Association—could really respect.

Unfortunately, The Boy makes a pet out of a champion killer-cock his father has given him. That destroys the cock's will to kill—even to survive.

Obviously this is a fairly banal metaphor about Manhood and Femininity. The equivalence of Cocks with Penises is also obvious.

A spoiled cock means another wimpy rooster—or, worse, a hen. Can this be a metaphor for those Sensitive Boys who disappoint Macho Fathers and end by writing self-pitying novels and plays about their endless anguish?

When The Boy's cock loses, The Father forces him to wring its neck. But even chickens with their heads cut off do not stop running around. [You have to shove them into a pail of boiling water for closure. Then the feathers come off like down.]

The Boy is devastated. His revenge on his Father is even more devastating.

Paul Owen's ingenious cock-ring set, with cages set around a low-level volcano—another visual metaphor—infused more dramatic tension into the events than the words of the script. Pip Gordon's lighting aided immensely, especially in suggesting the actual cockfights.

Bring Back Oldtime Screwball Comedy!
Naomi Iizuka's "Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls"

At the outset of "Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls," playwright Naomi Iizuka introduces a handful of young crazies who promise a wacko comedy far above the level of "Animal House."

And far off from those beloved old screwball comedies of Preston Sturges.

One of the most amusing is Demi Moore's conflicted Personal Assistant. He stands out, however, not only because he's hilarious in his alternating praise and derogation of Demi. But also because he is manically focused.

The rest, even those who have jobs, have neither focus nor center. Nor do they seem to be very good at relationships, since they don't get along well with themselves.

One of the most frantically unfocused is an airline-counter clerk who would rather be anywhere than where he is. But dreams of Demi Moore make him think of Hollywood as a Destination.

That goes for others among this ragtag of Unhappy Twenties. But most land in Hawaii, not LAX. One ends up, pregnant, in Alaska.

She opens a shop dealing in tropical plants. And when her growing son has a birthday, some of the crew from Hawaii turn up. Or seem to. Don't ask how they got her address—or the money for a Delta ticket.

According to some inside information, the playwright wanted to show people who are not able to make up their minds. That's apparently why Hawaii or Alaska is as good as Los Angeles.

That is Playwriting Quicksand.

It also does not help to have most of the actors play two roles. With characters as generic as Ms. Iizuka has provided, it's not easy to distinguish them. Nor does it seem very important.

The old formula of a central character who wants something very much, but is frustrated in getting or achieving it, has a certain virtue of engaging audience-attention.

If you insist on breaking old molds to create new forms, then you still need to have a center to your drama, compelling characters, the possibility of development, and even interesting dialogue.

Even the babble of idiots can be made most amusing by a skilled playwright.

It's not enough to defend lame conversational banalities by saying: "Well, that's just the way they talk."

If theatre-audiences wanted banal conversation they could stay at home. Or watch television, which thrives on banalities. Ms. Iizuka has surely watched a lot of TV.

There are some promising props, but we never get to see them, alas. There is supposed to be a monstrous and vicious dog in a doghouse. And a huge python in a terrarium.

Even as Actors Theatre Puppets, they would have offered a welcome diversion.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of banal props. At the close, the Alaska premises are strewn with all kinds of plants and furniture and people.

Amazingly, this Thrift-Shop assortment of stage-props was permitted by director Jon Jory.

It must have been a bitch to work props on this show!

Ordinarily, one might again say Less Is More.

But here, it seemed that the profusion of props might make up for what was lacking in the drama itself: Focus, Purpose, Point of View.

The Ten-Minute Plays:

ROAD KILL--Bryan Richards prepares to shoot as Derek Cecil drives by, in Matt Pelfry's "Drive Angry." Photo: Richard C. Trigg.
If that old 1930s adage is still true—that "Life Begins at Forty"—there is hope for some of the authors of the Festival's ten-minute plays. Supposedly, they are now all under Thirty—as well as the actors who animated their efforts.

Like many playwrights—and would-be playwrights—most of them have been watching too much TV. Their images of human-beings seem derived from ongoing TV-series or from films made for the tube.

The Real World—which includes not only Alaska, Hawaii, Louisville, and Kosovo—seems Terra Incognita to some of these authors. What they need is not more Playwriting Classes, Developmental Workshops, or Staged-Readings.

Actors Theatre—or the Shuberts and the Disneys—should give them economy-class tickets to Macedonia or Finnmark. Anything for a change of scene and to get them away from their TV sets.

How about Kenya or Ghana? That could mean more roles for Black Actors!

As in that old inspirational talk, "Acres of Diamonds," they don't have to leave home at all. Just avoid the media and start living a little. And looking around, observing acutely, listening creatively.

The Real World, however, also includes Hollywood and Manhattan. Though they are occasionally more Unreal than most places on the globe.

And it is toward those two Destinations that many younger playwrights look. If they are not already resident in one or the other.

Robb Badlam's "Slop-Culture" a Lively TV Spin-Off

Robb Badlam's hilarious and indolent young have clearly watched too much TV.

They can mime characters and situations, expecting others to guess the show. "Gilligan's Island" is a great favorite—complete with falling cocoanuts!

TV is their Window on the World. Even if most of what they see is product-selling, audience-pleasing fiction.

Real Couch-Potatoes, Brian and Dylan have an almost placental attachment to their ratty sofa. But they aren't much help when a chum has to write a short essay on her most memorable early experience for a job-application.

Being completely honest with herself, it was a tongue-biting moment in a Tom & Jerry cartoon. She knows a revelation on this order won't get her the job.

This short comedy "has legs."

Cool Cats on a Hot Asphalt Roof:
Julia Jordan's "Mpls., St. Paul"

Billy [C. Andrew Bauer] has a fantasy that he can be a Rock Star. His chum Mel [Erica Blumfeld] points out that he can't even play a guitar.

He sees this as no obstacle if you thumb and bang it hard enough.

Their amusing argument occurs on a shed roof, apparently in either of the Twin Cities. If Julia Jordan's short-take on relationships is not site-specific, it is at least counting the Annuary Rings: the Time is 1985!

Anal Cancer and Pot-Shots:
Matt Pelfrey's "Drive Angry"

Road Rage is not funny. Not usually.

But Matt Pelfrey gives it a wicked spin in "Drive Angry."

Chemo Boy [Bryan Richards] and Rex the Mex [Derek Cecil] are out for a nightride on an LA Freeway.

Their chatter is distinguished by novel expressions such as "Moose Semen."

Colon Cancer is not funny. But Chemo Boy has got it.

Maybe that explains his joy in taking potshots from their speeding souped-up car at other motorists?

Chanel Pink on Office-Parade:
Caroline Williams' "Just Be Frank"

An outrageously bright pink two-piece suit—with broad black Chanel banding—dominates the stage. An outrageously over-confidant account executive is bucking for a promotion.

Other women in the office, smarter, harder-working, deserve it more. No matter. She has eyes and ears only for herself.

She does, however, make the mistake of urging her co-workers to be frank with her.

Suddenly and brutally they are. It's a shock.

But she still gets the promo—even though the boss has no idea who she is or what she does. Tits and ass in a Pink Suit are quite enough.

As in a Dream of Rape:
Brooke Berman's "Dancing with a Devil"

This requires two women. One stands clinically at the side with a clip-board. She urges the other—climbing onto a clinical bed—to relive her experience of rape.

The silent masked black-clad rapist enters her bedroom at night. As in a dream, this mysterious Masked Man enters her as well.

This ritual dance is repeated. And still the victim cannot erase the memory.

Mopping Up after the Fall:
Jerome Hairston's "Forty Minute Finish"

An old man has fallen down, felled by a stroke. His head split open.

Ike and Terry are mopping up the lino afterward.

What did the Old Guy look like anyway?

Not Nicole Kidman:
Courtney Baron's "The Blue Room"

ONE MAN IN A TUB--Carla Harting and Bruce McKenzie in the other "The Blue Room," by Courtney Baron. Photo: Richard C. Trigg.
There was the Sailor who was in love with the Sea and the Lady from the Sea.

Neither are in Courtney Baron's "Blue Room."

Her Sailor doesn't love the sea. It's only a way to make a living. He wants a woman of his own back waiting for him on shore.

Baron's Woman, on the other hand, has picked him up because she wants to be on the Sea.

He splashes about in a tub in the Blue Room during their brief encounter.

After he's gone to sea, she dies. But she lives forever for him in an imaginary Blue Room out in the South Pacific. Baron gives the exact coordinates.

This is what used to be called Poetic Drama. What it lacks is really engaging imagery—with language to match.

Put the Clothes of Summer Away!
Sheri Wilner's "Labor Day" All-White Party

Refined People on the East Coast know that white is summer-wear. When Autumn arrives, you put your white things away for another summer.

Sheri Wilner imagines an All White Labor Day Party. The guests have white food and drink—though the white wine looks slightly yellowish.

They are even playing a White Game. Their names are Numbers—and they do exude generic snootiness.

All but one—who does not want to stop wearing white at the stroke of midnight.

Part of the cute game-plan of this 10-minute play is that it begins just ten minutes before midnight and must end on the stroke of twelve.

Starting Off Solo:
Apprentice Monologues!

It is a great relief that no one now thinks of "doing" one of Robert Browning's Dramatic Monologues even for an audition. And certainly not for a wider audience.

We are spared dreadful visions of a richly dressed lady, her face gorged with purplish blood, her neck grotesquely broken, as she hangs lankly from a noose nailed to a lavishly tapestried wall.

As an intense teenager gestures toward the imaginary wall and intones: "That's my last duchess hanging on the wall…"

Still, it was something of a surprise that none of the Actors Theatre Apprentices chose to be rogues and peasant slaves or Lady Macbeth concerned about hand-care.

Considering the immense success of "Shakespeare in Love," the Bard ought to be a fitting challenge for anyone seeking success on stage. In fact, some of his soliloquies ought to be mandatory challenges.

Small wonder the classics are so often poorly served by younger players. Either they are afraid of them, or they have not been well prepared.

One assumes that the current crop at Actors Theatre had some mentoring in choice of material. Most of the selections were relentlessly contemporary—except for a dated diatribe from Clifford Odets.

That some were chosen from playwrights who have made important contributions to past Humana Festivals was to be expected. Especially two from Jane Martin, the House Playwright.

Writing one's own material to perform may be OK for Comedy Clubs. But it certainly doesn't offer much of an acting challenge, for obvious reasons.

Most of the work was at least charged with energy. And a number of the monologues were also convincing—if necessarily brief—character-sketches.

Christopher P. Ajemian directed this rapidly moving show.

Here's the roster of Novice Monologists:

Tony Speciale, in an excerpt from Dan Butler's "The Only Thing Worse You Could Have Told Me."

Kerry Mulvaney, in his own piece, "Cut to the Chase."

Robert Marcato, in an excerpt from Ellen McLaughlin's "About Sally."

Catherine Ingman, in an excerpt from Wendy Wasserstein's "Uncommon Women."

Trip Hope, in an excerpt from John Patrick Shanley's "A Lonely Impulse of Delight."

Christina Delaine, in an excerpt from John Sayles' "Passion Fish."

Uma Incrocci, in an excerpt from Jane Martin's "Vital Signs."

Cameron Carlisle, in his own piece, "Where the Hell Did Batman Go?"

Preston Dyches, in his own piece, "The Repair & Maintenance of VCRs."

Ginna Hoben, in an excerpt from William Mastrosimone's "The Undoing."

Christopher Petrelli, in an excerpt from Steven Dietz's "Lonely Planet."

Andrea Whitley Clark, in an excerpt from David Hare's "The Secret Rapture."

Sara Kmak, in an excerpt from Jane Martin's "House Cleaning."

Matt G. Wiens, in an excerpt from David Mamet's "An Inquiry."

Erica Blumfeld, in an excerpt from William Hanley's "Slow Dance on the Killing Ground."

Bryan Richards, in an excerpt from Ralph Pape's "Say Goodnight, Gracie."

oanna Leah Buckner, in an excerpt from Clifford Odets' "Waiting for Lefty."

David Matranga, in an excerpt from Steve Tesich's "On the Open Road."

Miranda Miller, in an excerpt from Kevin Kling's "Lloyd's Prayer."

Matt Meyer, in an excerpt from Steven Dietz's "Trust."

C. Andrew Bauer, in an excerpt from Steven Dietz's "Lonely Planet."

Alice Johnson, in an excerpt from Janice Erlbaum's "In the Days of Pot and Ice Cream."

Nice work! Good beginnings!

Auto-Matic Theatre:
The Car Play—"What Are You Afraid Of?"

DRAMA UP FRONT--Trip Hope and Ginna Hoben argue in Richard Dresser's Car Play: "What Are You Afraid Of?" Photo: Richard C. Trigg.
Three at a time, spectators clambered into the back seat of a sedan parked outside Actors Theatre on Main Street. This made them willing participants in Richard Dresser's "What Are You Afraid Of?"

In the front seat, a Man and a Woman generated some verbal sparks. It was all over in a matter of minutes—but a complete theatre-experience, just the same.

Two acting-teams kept Dresser's Car Play in play during the day and into the night. Trip Hope & Ginna Hoben were one duo, with Tudor Sherrard & Jessica Jory the alternate team.

This may be the first stirrings of a new theatre-trend. Especially for those novice groups that cannot find a theatre.

Last fall, the Dublin Fringe Festival offered several intriguing car plays.

One trend-spotter assured me car plays were first presented at a Lincoln Center Festival. Possibly The Serious Fun Festival? He wasn't sure.

But my colleague and friend, Alexis Greene—of "In Theatre" and the Newark "Star-Ledger'—remembers seeing her first car play at the Los Angeles Arts Olympics.

That was many moons ago. And she believes these mini-dramas on wheels were Taxi Plays.

New Yorkers have had Cab Dramas for decades, of course. Occasionally, their cabbies were even playwright wannabes.

Did they realize they were creating a new Theatre Genre?

Your mother may well have warned you not to get into cars of strangers. But if it's the offer of a good Car Play, then it's probably OK to take a ride-in-place.

If any readers know definitively when and where the very first car plays were presented—if not during the LA Olympics—please send a message to our Editor, Jonathan Slaff. He will be delighted to share the information—including authors and titles of the plays—with other readers.

Frazier W. Marsh directed the two teams—for whom the staging was necessarily minimal.

This was an interesting change of pace for Dresser, whose full-length "Gunshy" and "Below the Belt" were recent Humana Festival favorites.

"Sorry, Wrong Number!"
The Festival "Phone Plays"

None of the Festival Phone Plays was as exciting as "Sorry, Wrong Number." Both because they lacked a visual component and because they had to be short.

Other auditors were waiting in line for their turn to eavesdrop on private conversations. You could call this "Call-Waiting."

Jon Jory—Artistic Director of Actors Theatre—directed ["staged" is hardly appropriate here] the five mini-dramas. All were commissioned by Actors Theatre.

Dealing with contemporary hangups, they were:

Neal Bell's "Will You Accept the Charges?", Rebecca Gilman's "Speech Therapy," David Greenspan's "Them," Rebecca Reynolds' "Visitation," and Diana Son's "Happy Birthday Jack."

The admirable performers—obviously available for voice-overs—included Andrea Clark, Laurie Williams, Adale O'Brien, Joanna Leah Buckner, V Craig Heidenreich, Preston Dyches, David Weynand, Jon Brent Curry, Matt Meyer, and Bruce McKenzie.

There's Something on Your T-Shirt!
Six Festival T(EXT) Shirt Plays

No festival would be complete without at least one T-shirt design. Preferably the theatre-logo or the current festival poster.

This year, Actors Theatre opted for something completely different.

Six American playwrights who have made their mark at the Humana Festival were asked to devise short play-texts.

These were transferred special souvenir T-shirts.

The interesting notion is that—wearing one as you walk down the street—you are also participating in the act of producing a play.

That is, if you walk slowly enough so passers-by can read the texts.

If you stop, stock-still, to make the reading-process easier for them, you may expose yourself to ridicule, however.

Not necessarily because you seem to be one of those sheep who pay for the privilege of becoming walking ads for Ralph Lauren and Bud Lite.

No, the width of some of the texts—especially on the XL sizes—may draw unwelcome attention to some expansive guts.

So these amusing items are best worn by the svelte and stylish. Others are advised to collect them merely.

There is an amusing brochure to promote the purchase and wearing of these unusual garments. It even boasts a Bibliography—including Marshall McLuhan!

It is much more precise in describing the role of the wearers of these T-shirts:

"The person who wears the shirt becomes the actor, able to creatively fill the words, accessorzing with pearls or a dinner jacket as he or she sees fit, able to abridge the text (with duct tape or magic marker, should a sentence or word prove offensive), but ultimately becoming a canvas for the playwright's words, the agent in the performance."

Talk about Performance Analysis!

Among the models are Wendy Wasserstein's "To I or Not To I"; Tony Kushner's "And the Torso Even More So"; David Henry Hwang's "Merchandising"; Naomi Wallace's "Manifesto"; Mac Wellman's "The Fez," and Jane Martin's "Stuffed Shirts."

If you really feel you ought to try on at least one of these authors' texts, a call or fax to Actors Theatre is in order. Phone: 502-584-1265. FAX: 502-561-3300.

In the Sara Shallenberger Brown Lobby:

Stunning Set-Models for "Visualizing the New Play"

It may be annoying to both directors and playwrights, but the image many retain after seeing a great play in a brilliant production is that of how it looked on stage.

The environment, the World of the Play, is often made manifest primarily by the sets, costumes, lighting, and sound. Sometimes, of course, these are so abstracted that they either "do not get in the way of the play," or make matters even more confusing.

Actors Theatre is a complex of buildings, including a Greek Revival Temple with noble columns outside and a quasi-Roman domed ceiling inside what is now the lobby for the Pamela Brown Auditorium.

This oval version of the Pantheon has recently been handsomely restored. It makes a splendid site for celebrations, book-stalls, and exhibitions.

This spring, six outstanding American designers are showing set-models there. In keeping with the Festival's theme of premiering new plays, each was created for a new play. Or at least, as in the case of Harold Pinter's "Ashes To Ashes," designed by Tony Walton, new to America.

Other designs include Marjorie Kellog's model for "The Victors," by Victor Steinbach; Riccardo Hernandez' vision of "Blade to the Heat," by Oliver Mayer; Paul Owen's model for a Thornton Wilder adventure, "Wilder Rediscovered"; Derek McLaine's setting for "Statement," by Eric Bogosian, and Ming Cho Lee's model for John Murrell's meditation on Georgia O'Keeffe, "The Faraway Nearby."

The models show these resourceful designers in top form, often working in unconventional spaces, unconfined by a proscenium arch. Jon Jory has wisely chosen examples not only from New York's premiere presenters but also from leading regional theatres.

Jory has included a provocative note in the exhibition brochure. He has titled it: "Text & Design: The role of design in creating a new play."

What he says is so important that some of his own text must be shared:

"American theatre is moving toward becoming a theatre of images. Visual and aural designers for the stage have led a transition away from realism toward a deeper examination of the metaphor. It is not possible to participate in this powerful new aesthetic without understanding the central nature of image in the theatre of the 21st century.

"Having produced some 230 new American works with the playwright in the room and having made the decision to make the playwright the primary force in the production process, I have become aware that very often the most trenchant observations about the text come from our first-rate designers…"

There is a very good reason for this. Designers, reading new texts, have to solve the problems of creating appropriate and dramatically effective environments in which the events can unfold.

Unlike the playwrights, in the throes of creativity, they also have to think about budget-limitations, design and construction time-frames, and the often daunting limitations of the performance-spaces.

Vagueness in texts, actions, characters have to be clarified—at least in some degree—if the designer is to create a milieu for the play.

Jory doesn't say so, but a major reason for the trend toward a Theatre of Images is the increasing co-dependence of live audiences on the profusion of TV images at home. If the images are vivid enough and change swiftly enough, one really doesn't have to pay attention to what is being said.

This has already become a real danger to the Spoken Word.

On the Pamela Brown Auditorium Stage:

Lanford Wilson Wins Top Prize:
ATCA Honors His "Book of Days"

Those who think they know all the foremost Regional Theatres may be surprised to discover there's one worth visiting in Chelsea, Michigan. It's called the Purple Rose Theatre.

The name was suggested by Woody Allen's film, "The Purple Rose of Cairo." Why?

Because the founder of this enterprising young theatre is Jeff Daniels, who appeared in that wonderful movie. He also commissioned his old friend, Lanford Wilson, to write a new play for the Purple Rose Theatre.

That drama is "Book of Days," and it has just won Lanford Wilson $1,000 and the New Play Award of the American Theatre Critics Association [ATCA].

Accepting the prize at the Humana Festival, Wilson spoke with obvious affection and appreciation of his experience in working on the play's premiere with the ensemble in Chelsea. He made it sound like a wonderful place to make theatre—and even to live, despite the winter snows.

His only guideline was that he write about a Midwestern subject. But nothing more about the Talley Family!

He chose a story about a murder in Missouri.

Critic Lawrence Devine, of the "Detroit Free Press," noted: "Deep down, perhaps "Book of Days" is about frightened people: townspeople afraid to stand up and be counted, some with secrets, some cowed by old-time religion, some just numb. Wilson's Missouri village comes to look universal."

Also honored for new plays were Lisa Loomer and Donald Margulies. His prize-winning drama is "Dinner with Friends," premiered at last spring's Humana Festival.

Loomer's winner is "Expecting Isabel," launched at the Arena Theatre in Washington, DC. Both Loomer and Margulies are well known to New York audiences, of course.

Loomer's "The Waiting Room"—which previously won an ATCA award—was much admired Off-Broadway. As is Margulies' "Collected Stories," currently featuring Uta Hagen at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

ATCA members—a number of whom are regulars at the Humana Festivals—also nominate leading regional theatres for a special Tony© Award. And they are nominators and voters for all those bronze letters on the walls of the Gershwin Theatre. Better known as the Theatre Hall of Fame.

What Would a Theatre Festival Be Without Panels?

Teaching Playwriting &
Designing the New Play

But Can Playwriting Be Taught? When we have finally Stamped Out Breast Cancer, will it be possible to find a Cure for Playwriting?

No! And it's not worth the effort to try.

Even the totally talentless cannot be discouraged.

The ones who are most often discouraged, regrettably, are the truly talented—who are all too often desperately seeking a production.

Even without the hundreds, even thousands, of playwriting courses, degree-tracks, workshops, and staged-readings, people would still write plays.

Perhaps matters should be left that way. If you feel you have a play in you, sit down and let it out.

But that would snuff a burgeoning Academic Industry. It might put a lot of Professors of Playwriting out of work. Or force them to teach Dramatic Structure instead.

That's not a bad idea, as many new plays need some kind of structure more than they need kooky characters and odd situations.

Between new dramas at the Humana, Mac Wellman, Adele Edling Shank, Marsha Norman, and Jack Bradley—of London's Royal National Theatre—shared ideas on teaching the art & craft of writing plays.

There are those who think it cannot be taught. They should have heard this panel!

Apparently, it is possible to begin as a college freshman and advance through intermediate playwriting onward to three years of learning how to write new plays. The Old Ones have, of course, already been written.

With all the talk about levels of skill and experience, no one mentioned the most important course of all: Remedial Playwriting.

The panel was subtitled "Passing on Traditions & Breaking the Rules." Some ardent playwriting rule-breakers unfortunately don't even know what the traditions are.

Norman—whom a friend confused with Marsha Mason—offered a simple and very traditional formula for beginning to write a play: a Character, a Want, and "BUT…"

That all-important But, or blockage, makes possible conflict which is so often the Life-Blood of a play.

Mason teaches playwriting at the Juilliard School with colleague Christopher Durang. Who has spent his Sophomore Years breaking all the rules.

Designing the New Play Opening up the incipient discussion of the designers' role in bringing new scripts to life—first suggested by Jon Jory and the lobby-display of set-models—this panel was both fascinating and site-specific.

Serving the play well—rather than making a personal Design Statement—was strongly emphasized.

Ming Cho Lee noted his regret that one of his most celebrated—and award-winning—designs did not serve the play effectively. This was "K2," in which two men were marooned on a narrow shelf of rock on an Himalayan precipice.

On Broadway, the sheer white face of the mountain rose high into the flies and disappeared deep below the level where the stage usually is.

Ming now believes the drama would have been better served in a small theatre, preferably an arena-conformation.

He may be right. I found the play eminently forgettable. But not his magnificent monumental set.

As it is well known that many directors have little—or defective—visual sense, designers often have to help them discover where their drama is really taking place.

To that end, some of the designers on the panel noted their methods of adjustment. Ming Cho Lee often designs several alternative scenic solutions, hoping one will be just what the director needs.

Panelists included John Dillon, Marcia Dixcy Jory, Derek McLaine, Paul Owen, and Steve Strawbridge. [Loney]

Return to top of page.

Copyright © Glenn Loney 1999. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: jslaff@nytheatre-wire.com.

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