The Humana Condition
TheaterMania previews the 36th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville.
The festival showcases seven fully produced, full-length plays, as well as a two-evening run of selected ten-minute plays. Among the highlights are Tony Award winner Greg Kotis' Michael von Siebenburg Melts Through the Floorboards a dark comedy about the rigors of vampiric immortality; Mona Mansour's The Hour of Feeling, about a Palestinian couple who travel to London in 1967; and Tony Award nominee Lisa Kron's The Veri**on Play, a thriller with a comic twist about a woman whose experience with customer service goes wildly awry.
Also on tap are Lucas Hnath's Death Tax, which pits a patient against her caretaker in a tightly wound thriller about money, power and the value of a human life; Courtney Baron's Eat Your Heart Out, a tale of parental hopes and fears; hip hop performer Idris Goodwin's How We Got On, a coming-of-age tale set in the late 1980s with suburban teen rappers who find their identities through their music; and Oh, Gastronomy!, an exploration of the relationships people have with food in daily life written by Michael Golamco, Carson Kreitzer, Steve Moulds, Tanya Saracho, and Matt Schatz
The festival is the first for newly appointed artistic director Les Waters. While he did not pick this year's selections, he has twice directed productions for past festivals -- Charles Mee's myth-driven Big Love and Naomi Iizuka's At the Vanishing Point -- and is well aware of Humana's importance in the theatrical landscape.
"When I lived in England, I would read reports about it in British newspapers," says Waters. "It was how you found out what was being created and developed for the stage. The festival has been very successful at launching many new shows, year after year, that become part of the national vocabulary."
Kotis has been involved in past festivals, but this is his first full-length work to be seen here. And it's definitely different than the Tony-winning musical Urinetown. He describes this play as an unusual comedy about the rigors of immortality. The central character learned a brutal practice -- Kotis calls it "vampiric" -- for survival during the siege of Constantinople in 1453. He's been using it for a half-millennium, eventually finding himself in 21st-century America.
Kotis spent time in Romania in 1995 during an era of contemporary brutality, and he wondered if the behavior he witnessed was the vestige of something medieval. "The central conceit of the play is a medieval man in modern America and what he makes of it, and what it makes of him," he says. "Now he must choose whether to continue how he is -- or not."
At the opposite end of the experience spectrum is Mansour's play. "It's about identity, and whether you can you escape your identity," she says. "You get the sense that the main character would rather not be identified as Palestinian or Arab at all. He certainly doesn't want to be represented as a refugee. It's easy to get caught up in borders and maps; it makes your head spin."
Indeed, the play asks many significant questions. Adds Mansour, "What is the loss to your psyche when displacement happens? And what if, at the age of 23, you absolutely had to make a choice on a moment's notice that would affect the rest of your life?"
Being at Humana will likely affect Mansour's life. "Writers like Mona Mansour and Greg Kotis represent the range you can find at Humana," says Waters. "We live in a very diverse society, and we can't just present one voice."
"To have a play on their stage is a tremendous privilege," adds Kotis. "I'm eager not only to see my play, but all the others that are on view."