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Kedar K. Adour

37th Humana Festival of New American Plays 2013

By April 20, 2013No Comments

Breaking New Ground at the Humana New American Play Festival

37th Humana Festival of New American Plays 2013:  Actors Theatre of Louisville;

Reams could be written about plethora of fine acting, directing and production values at the Humana New Play Festival but for this reviewer the emphasis is on “the plays the thing.”

Les Waters’ first full year as Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville and over-seer of the 37th Humana Festival of New American Plays came to a successful conclusion on April 7 with plays that stimulate the mind, ask cogent questions, exposes political corruption with drama and humor.  Only one play, The Delling Shore by Sam Marks misses the mark although our own local Bay Area favorite director Meredith McDonough gave it a noble try.

All of the plays that arrive at the festival undergo professional scrutiny and are assigned a dramaturg(s) as well as technical staff. Rewrites have been often been incorporated while they are in rehearsal and previews. Along with Mark’s play that seems incomplete, Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has a dynamic first act that would benefit from a second act revision.  Cry Old Kingdom by Jeff Augustin, Gnit by Will Eno and O Guru Guru Guro or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you (yes it is all in the title) by Mallery Avidon are all ready for road.

GNIT  by Will Eno (Two hours 10 minuts with intermission)

The best of the lot in this years offering is Gnit by Will Eno, the master of language with a wicked sense of humor. This time around Eno tackles the rambling epic poem of Peer Gynt and comes up with a winner that will surely grace the boards of Berkeley Rep who, like Christopher Isherwood of the NY Times are ‘Enophiles.”

It helps that Les Waters directed the show with an excellent cast of Linda Kimborough playing the Mother and Dan Weller as Peter along with four other cast members that play a multitude of roles. Our own San Francisco product, Danny Wolohan, who has relocated in New York, reinforces his selection as San Francisco’s Best Ensemble Actor with sparkling wit befitting an Eno play.

Eno has subtitled his play “a rough translation of Henrik Ibsen’s PEER GYNT.” That may be true since this reviewer is not familiar with the poem or the story line. Rough or not it just seems right without any apology. It begins with Mother saying “Never have children. Or, I don’t know, have children. You end up talking to yourself, either way” and her first words to Peter, “You’re a liar.”

From this point Peter goes off on a far flung journey to find his true self leaving behind his bedridden mother. Before he leaves Norway, with neighbors in hot pursuit, he runs off with the bride betrothed to another. She gets deserted because Solvay is his true love.

His journey takes him to Morocco, Egypt (fantastic moveable set pieces by Antje Ellerman) and a dozen other places where he encounters the real world only to return unfulfilled to Norway. One wonders what Ibsen would say of this work.

APPROPRIATE by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins  (2 hours and15 minutes with intermission)

Actors Theatre has great acting spaces including the spacious Pamela Brown proscenium arch stage, the medium sized theatre-in-the-round Bingham and the intimate three-sided Victor Jory theatre.  Appropriate directed by Gary Griffen is mounted on the Pamela Brown stage and Antje Ellermann’s sensational set design evokes the mood even before two characters enter through a window.

Author Branden Jacobs-Jenkins who was born in the South and whose mother lives in Arkansas is familiar with the depressed areas where once glorious mansions are gradually crumbling. He also has a fascination with family interaction, specifically dysfunctional families. And so it is with Appropriate.

The three generations of Lafayettes arrive at their Arkansan plantation to liquidate the estate of their deceased patriarch. Those arriving through the window are a wayward son Franz and his significant other, a young female who is a believer in meditation and has had a salutary effect on Franz’s screwed up life. The oldest daughter Toni has been burdened with the care of their father who had descended into complete dependency before his eventual death. She is arranging the liquidation, is extremely defensive and offensive about the misery she has endured.

Arriving from New York is successful lawyer and oldest brother Bo, with his Jewish wife and two children. The animosity between the siblings escalates and layer by layer the past transgressions are exposed. When a photo album containing graphic photos of blacks being hanged is discovered the secret of the patriarch’s racist life is revealed. Although denial abounds, the truth of that discovery seems real although Jacob-Jenkins leaves it up to the audience to believe or not to believe.

The play, after a brilliantly written first, partially falls apart when violent physical action erupts between the family members. A non-dialog epilog with the set falling apart as strangers invade the mansion, although very dramatic, is unnecessary and probably will be excised from the final script.


CRY OLD KINGDOM by Jeff Augustin (80 minutes no intermission).

Although Jeff Augustin has never been to Haiti, the setting for Cry Old Kingdom, his mother was born there and he has been immersed in the oral history of the island nation. There was a dichotomy between his mother’s romanticizing and news stories of the brutality of the François “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s regime. Set in1964 the protagonist Edwin a once admired artist painter is hiding in a secluded seashore location to avoid conflict with the oppressive Papa Doc’s henchmen the Tonton Macoutes. Into this secluded area ventures young Henri Marx who is building a boat to sail to America and freedom.

The inspirationally depleted painter/poet Edwin is rejuvenated when he meets Henri and will allow the boat to be built if he allows Edwin to paint the boy in the process. A poetic dependency develops between the two and progress continues on the boat building.

Edwin’s wife Judith continues to work each day and supplies the necessities for living. Her intellectual strength and love of country leads to her jailing, forcing Edwin to make a horrendous decision of whether to reveal Henri’s escape attempt thus freeing his wife or to remain silent. The ending is devastating.

O GURU GURU GURU or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you by Mallery Avidon (90 minute no intermission)

Mallery Avidon’s strange play with the exceptional long title also has the tag of being a “triptych.”  Not only is it written in three parts, it is also a lesson in what really is yoga. To the initiated, this reviewer being one of them, it is a lesson in the history and art of Hindu transcendental meditation, not just the bone twisting physical exercises.  An ‘ashram’ is a hermitage, monastic community, or other place of religious retreat for Hindus and meditation is the game.

The play is semiautobiographical since Avidon lived for a time in an ashram in the Catskill Mountains but she moved on with her life forgoing satsangs that are gatherings where the participants experience a higher state of consciousness through music, meditation and wisdom.

The first part of the triptych on a stark blank stage is a lecture given by 30 year old Lila who projects blank slides in explaining the intricacies of yoga and how she got to this stage in her life. OK, now what? Now what is a full blown satsang beautifully staged with colorful saris and incidental music on an accordion type instrument with audience participation. At the performance I attended, 23 of the audience took off their shoes and sat cross-legged on stage to participate. As part of the satsang is a beautiful long shadow puppet show about the Hindu God Shiva and how he got his elephant head.

The final scene is a Hollywood set of a movie Eat, Pray, Love that stars Julie Roberts who dispenses wisdom to Lila playing an extra. Really. End of play.


The Apprentice Company play this year, Sleep Rock Thy Brain, was written byRinne Groff, Lucas Hnath  and Anne Washburn. It was an off venue location where the cast members had a chance to fly suspended by wires from the ceiling. Fun but fails to win the brass ring.