LOUISVILLE -- Regulars at the Humana Festival of New American Plays usually look for a trend in each year1s slate of new works produced by Actors Theatre of Louisville, and this year the word "short" is on a lots of lips.
Producing director Jon Jory admits in production notes, "It's going to take a wide-ranging mind to find (a theme) this year; a few festivals ago, several people felt that year was marked by offstage howling dogs."
What greeted theatregoers at the Special Visitors' Weekend of the 23rd Annual Humana Festival March 19-21 were 25 new works, only three of which might be called "full-length" in the traditional sense: Anne Bogart's intermissionless, 90-minute Cabin Pressure, the obvious and most unlikely hit of the festival; David Rambo's two-act God's Man in Texas, a thoughtful comedy about the religion industry and what pulls men into its leadership; and Naomi Iizuka's two-act, dark comedy, Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls.
This year, short is in and intermissions are out.
Arthur Kopit's dark comedy about a cyber terrorist, Y2K, lasted 75 minutes. Ditto Frank Murphy and Vincent Manley1s coming-of-age The Cockfighter. The remaining "full-length" show March 20, the prime Saturday night spot usually thought to be the centerpiece in the festival, was a bill of eight one-acts by writers under 30, Life Under 30. Add to this what's been called "gimmick" works, like the hot-ticket "Car Play," What Are You Afraid Of?, by Richard Dresser, in which three theatregoers cram in the back seat of a car to observe two actors in a brief scene (driver and hitchhiker, played by Jessica Jory and Tudor Sherrand or Trip Hope and Ginna Hoben) in the front seat. Or, listen in on five different "Phone Plays" for which you pick up a pay phone receiver (one of five dummy units provided by Bell South) and eavesdrop on prerecorded conversations written by Neal Bell, Rebecca Gilman, David Greenspan, Rebecca Reynolds or Diana Son.
Further expanding the boundaries of what we perceive as playwriting, six playwrights were commissioned to write "T(ext) Shirt Plays," brief scenes that are printed on t-shirts and sold as limited editions. The works are by David Henry Hwang, Tony Kushner (whose Slavs! started at Humana), Jane Martin (a Humana regular absent from the mainstage this year), Naomi Wallace (whose One Flea Spare began here), Wendy Wasserstein and Mac Wellman.
Get 1em while they1re hot -- $20 each -- on sale in the lobby.
"The point of our 'additions' or 'gimmicks' or 'explorations' is hopefully that time and space in dramatic endeavor are flexible," Jory writes in his production notes, "and that two hours in a theatre seat is the dominant but certainly not the only venue and time frame for the drama. Plus, of course, it means more writers and more experiences enriching the festival."
Some of the hundreds of industry folk -- media, agents, arts administrators -- milling about called the weekend "slim pickings," asking what has become of the festival that in past years premiered or further developed such nationally-recognized works as The Gin Game, Getting Out, Crimes of the Heart, Lone Star, Agnes of God, Extremities, Talking With, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Execution of Justice, Beast on the Moon, Keely and Du and more.
Then again, regulars every year bemoan how the festival isn1t like it used to be -- even if their history with it is recent.
The festival, seen on ATL's three stages in its complex two blocks from the muddy Ohio River, is funded each year by the Louisville-based Humana Foundation.
The five-week festival began Feb. 23, and continues (with stagings of all shows in repertory) through March 28.
The Special Visitors' Weekend usually occurs in the fourth week of the festival to allow the new works to gel before being scrutinized by industry folks and media.
Tickets are still available. For Humana Festival information, call (800) 4ATL-TIX or (502) 584-1205.
-- By Kenneth Jones