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Humana Festival -04/04/1998

The Humana Festival
Actors Theatre of Louisville
February 24 to April 4, 1998.
Ticket Office: 1-800-4ATL-TIX.

For information about the Festival or the Ten-Minute Play Contest, try www.actorstheatre.org.


The Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival always strives for an eclectic mix of new plays, and its 22nd annual incarnation certainly succeeded in that aim.

Featuring everything from a light comedy about a naive, green-faced alien who drops into Wisconsin for a cup of coffee to an aggressive, topical work about what to do with a convicted child molester, the 1998 Humana Festival couldn't have been more expansive.

Several of the works -- different as they were in style and scope -- delved into the position of children in America, with varying degrees of insight.

That category included "The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek," Naomi Wallace's surrealistic, resonant look at two teenagers in desperate straits during the Depression, pushed to play chicken with a freight train just to feel alive.

Delicately directed by the famed Adrian Hall, "Trestle" was perfect for the small, intimate Victor Jory Theater. Wallace's poetic, murky writing made its impact, as did impressive performances by Michael Linstroth and Tami Dixon as the passionate, tragic teens, and Marion McCorry as the boy's sweet, muddled mother.

A child is also at the center of "Mr. Bundy," Jane Martin's examination of Megan's Law as it applies to one sad old man convicted of a terrible crime fifteen years ago, and now hounded from place to place. Although powerfully staged and acted, "Mr. Bundy" seemed more like an edition of "Nightline" at times, and its characters tended to reflect positions more than real people.

Still, young Margaret Streeter, a third grader, did a remarkable job playing the little girl in the eye of the storm, and Peggity Price, fresh from Broadway and "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," turned in a terrific performance as well, bringing to vivid life a grieving mother bent on finding justice and revenge.

The children's theme continued into "Like Totally Weird," a fast-paced, dark, deadly romp by William Mastrosimone.

This one had commerical possibilities written all over it, as a slick Hollywood producer/director/writer/actor and his gorgeous bimbo-du-jour find themselves taken hostage by a couple of wacked out kids with a gun. The opulent setting; the backdrop of video games, action movies and non-stop violence; the cinematic structure (two hours, no intermission); the central role of the ego-driven powerbroker -- imagine Jack Nicholson as the Hollywood bigshot, someone young and nubile (Cameron Diaz?) as his girlfriend, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Macauley Culkin as the troubled teens, and you can already see the lines forming at the box office. And if the play's violence contributes to the very problem it attempts to expose? Well, that is the question.

Again, the younger actors ruled the day. Kevin Blake and Chris Stafford were nimble, focused, and very strong as the scary pair of fifteen-year-olds.

The Festival's other offerings ventured into different territory, everything from yuppies and aliens to Jack Kerouac.

"Dinner With Friends," Donald Margulies' thoughtful look at what happens to a nice married couple when their best friends divorce, showed off eye-popping sets, but otherwise seemed much like the husband in the play -- steady, safe, earnest, and maybe even a bit predictable.

Stuart Spencer's "Resident Alien," the one about the green-faced guy in Wisconsin, offered mild laughs and some "Fargo" style accents, while JoAnne Akalaitis contributed "Ti Jean Blues," the choppy, jazzed-up, somewhat chilly Kerouac piece.

The Festival also solicits ten-minute plays every year (local playwrights take notice -- you, too, can send in a play or two!) This year's prize winner, a sweet romantic comedy called "Acorn," by newcomer David Graziano, well outclassed the work by the veteran playwrights on the ten-minute bill.

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