Review: 36th Humana Festival of New American Plays

By Columbus Alive
From the March 29, 2012 edition

Few theater thrills equal that of witnessing something brand-spanking new. For 36 years now, Actors Theatre of Louisville has presented its annual Humana Festival of New American Plays, the most important festival of its type. What starts at Humana often ends up on a Columbus stage, so think of this as a preview of coming attractions.

“Eat Your Heart Out,” by Courtney Baron

A man and woman, both divorced and in search of love, have just met thanks to an online dating service. The woman interviews a married couple, unable to conceive the child they desperately want, looking to adopt. That same woman is mother to an overweight high school girl with an unrequited crush on her male best friend. Desperation oozes from this play. Not to mention the irony of the mother, who can’t communicate with her daughter, judging the fitness of others’ potential parenting skills.

“How We Got On,” by Idris Goodwin

Rhymes are made to stick in the mind, and so was “How We Got On.” A condensed history of rap and its influence, Goodwin’s joyous play draws in audience members, regardless of their regard for hip-hop. It’s the story of rival suburban rappers — one black, one Hispanic — who become collaborators. They learn from a word-savvy female cohort how to vacuum up their own experience and spit it back as art.

“Death Tax,” by Lucas Hnath

In this taut one-act, the only trustworthy and emotionally truthful line is the final one, spoken by elderly, bed-ridden Maxine: “I’m scared to die.” Everything else, from Maxine’s paranoid fears of being slowly killed by her greedy daughter, to that daughter’s remorse for telling her mother off, to Nurse Tina’s tales of woe, to the nursing home director’s love for Tina, is suspect.

“Michael von Siebenburg Melts Through the Floorboards,” by Greg Kotis

Kotis was the playwright and co-lyricist of “Urinetown,” one of the smartest and funniest musicals of recent years. Although the premise of “Floorboards” may be even more outrageous, it’s no “Urinetown.” Fifteenth-century Austrians who fought to defend Constantinople from the Turks have survived until now by eating the tenderized flesh of humans. But the mess that such cannibalism would cause in the 21st century pales in comparison to the mess that is this play.

“The Veri**on Play,” by Lisa Kron

Riffing on customer service nightmares, Kron presents a funny, occasionally clever near-farce. It might have made an excellent extended comedy sketch, but it’s much too enamored of its own conceit and it goes on too long. With considerable tightening up, it could be the attack on corporate inhumanity that it sometimes aspires to be.

“The Hour of Feeling,” by Mona Mansour

It’s as full of promise as the young Palestinian scholar of English Romantic poetry at its center, but “Feeling” loses its way in unenlightening detail that neither illuminates the cultural clash nor exploits the rich political potential of its setting during the Six-Day War.

[In the folder (I can get more if you want):

“arts play hour of feeling” caption/credit: “Hour of Feeling” Alan Simons photo

“arts play how we got on” caption/credit: “How We Got On” Alan Simons photo]