One of America's most-watched theatre events, the Humana Festival of New American Plays, begins Feb. 23 with a performance of Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls, one of five full-length works and 25 new pieces at the Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Funded by the Humana Foundation, the festival is run on three stages of the Tony Award-winning ATL and draws local and regional theatregoers. The festival, through Mar. 28, presents works in repertory and the pieces often go through honing and fine-tuning prior to a "special visitors weekend" (March 19-21) that includes international critics, producers and literary agents.
This year's full-length works are by Anne Bogart and the Saratoga International Theatre Institute, Arthur Kopit, Naomi Iizuka, Frank Manley & Vincent Murphy and David Rambo.
Two of the new works, Bogart's Cabin Pressure and Iizuka's Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls, are commissions by Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Among the works, described by ATL's production notes: * Cabin Pressure, created by Anne Bogart and the Saratoga International Theatre Institute: After a year of public and private discussions with 47 diverse Louisville audience members, Bogart and Co. explore actor-audience relations, drawing on practices from Greek theatre festivals to past Humana fests. Begins performances Mar. 18.
* Y2K by Kopit, directed by Bob Balaban: A drama about a couple's "worst nightmare -- a world with no secrets -- with results that prove alarming, sinister and erotic." For this couple, "the future has arrived, and they are the first casualties." Begins performances Feb. 27.
* The Cockfighter by novelist Manley, adapted and directed by Murphy: "Inspired by the courage and fierceness he associates with fighting cocks, a young man rebels against an adult world tainted by his father's flawed vision of manhood." The traditional bloodsport of cockfighting is presented in a "highly theatrical" way. Begins performances Mar. 7.
* God's Man in Texas by Rambo, directed by John Dillon: "A collision course" of "wits, egos and ideologies" with a preacher auditioning for a job at a Baptist university. A drama "about institutional power struggles, fathers and sons and religion in the age of mass marketing." Begins performances Mar. 3.
* Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls by Iizuka, directed by ATL artistic director Jon Jory: "A quirky, wildly imaginative look at how people enter and leave each other's lives as they search for a family or tribe." Begins performances Feb. 23.
Bogart's experimental movement-and-text work, with international collaborators, has been seen previously at Humana, and Kopit's Hollywood satire, Bone-the-Fish had its debut there (later being renamed Road to Nirvana).
Other high-profile writers contributing brief works to the 1999 festival are Wendy Wasserstein (The Heidi Chronicles), Jane Martin (Keely and Du), David Henry Hwang (Golden Child), Tony Kushner (Angels in America), Richard Dresser (Below the Belt), Naomi Wallace (One Flea Spare), Mac Wellman (Sincerity Forever) and Diana Son (Stop Kiss).
The annual 10-minute play slate (the Heideman Award winners) will have a theme this year: "Life Under 30," focusing on works by "writers under 30, about life under 30, performed by actors under 30." The short works, a favorite for festivalgoers every year, will be by Robb Badlam, Courtney Baron, Brooke Berman, Jerome Hairston, Julia Jordan, Matt Pelfrey, Caroline Williams and Sheri Wilner. Performances begin Mar. 12.
In a programming gimmick sure to earn attention, the Humana Festival will also present, "telephone plays, t-shirt plays" and a "car play," bumping the total number of festival works to 25.
* For "telephone plays," patrons enter one of several telephone booths in the ATL lobby, pick up the receiver and listen to three-minute plays unfold. The works are The Visitation by Becky Reynolds, Will You Accept the Charges? by Neal Bell, Happy Birthday Jack by Diana Son, Speech Therapy by Rebecca Gilman and Them by David Greenspan.
* The "t-shirt plays" can be presented by anyone; they are t-shirts on which a play is written, and are available for purchase only during the festival. They are being called "t(ext) shirts" and the works include Merchandising by David Henry Hwang, Stuffed Shirts by Jane Martin, Manifesto by Naomi Wallace, To T or Not to T by Wendy Wasserstein, The Fez by Mac Wellman and an untitled piece by Tony Kushner.
* For the "car play," What Are You Afraid Of? by Richard Dresser, groups of two and three will enter a car parked on the street in front of ATL with "an earnest young man who's off on the ride of his life with a free-spirited hitchhiker."
The five major plays and the "Life Under 30" one-acts are held on ATL's three stages: The intimate three-quarter Victor Jory, the quasi proscenium Pamela Brown and the arena-style Bingham Theatre.
Past works that began in the festival and went on to popular Broadway, film or regional success include The Gin Game, Agnes of God, Crimes of the Heart, Keely and Du, A Piece of My Heart, Talking With, Jack and Jill, Beast on the Moon, Below the Belt and others.
The festival is sponsored by the Humana Foundation, an arm of the Humana health care organization.
For information, call ATL's box office at (502) 584-1205. ATL's website is www.actorstheatre.org
-- By Kenneth Jones