I love Philadelphia’s theater scene. Watching my favorite actors surprise me in roles I never thought they could do. Getting ready to see my most admired directing hero’s worlds unfold in front of me. Waiting for the lights to go down and be overwhelmed by the set that emerges, the sound that carries me away, the lights that immerse me into the world. I love Philadelphia and the work that we do.
But this weekend, I had the most amazing experience of flying off to Louisville and take part in the Humana Festival at the Actor of Louisville. And it was filled with completely new faces, designs and worlds. And it was awesome.
The weekend started off with a bang with the world premiere of Bob by Peter Sinn Natchrieb. Peter penned Exile’s awesome Hunter Gatherers circa 2009. I was really excited to go into this unique imagination once again. And what an imagination it was! I am not exaggerating when I say that my mouth with agape. Fun, fast and completely cosmic- Bob razzle-dazzled its way through the story of one man seeking greatness. This is truly my favorite type of story; epic, universal and unflinchingly theatrical. This is what I want to see. And I couldn’t help but see some of our most imaginative and agile Philly actors creating this carnival of existentialism. I mean, come on. The actors each perform dances embodying luck, despair, loss. It was fantastic and a great way to kick off the weekend and wins best new play from my personal Barrymore awards.
Later that night, I had the pleasure of seeing the Actor Theater of Louisville’s intern company perform the finale to their year long commitment to the company. It was great to cheer them on and I was reminded of our own Arden Aprenti and their yearly showcase. And my heart went out to Justin and Georgia and the rest of the APA Class of 2005 whom I met my first year in Philadelphia.
The next day brought Adam Rapp’s The Edge of our Bodies- which I was very curious to see. Like a bad Ex, I both love and get so mad at Mr. Rapp. And Edge of our Bodies made me remember the way my stomach flipped the first time I read his Red Light Winter. It was like old times again. The show also boasted the best performance of the weekend, the young Catherine Combs who shouldered the one man show with grace, with beauty and with a ferocity that will haunt me for weeks.
Next came A Devil At Noon by Ann Washburn. Evocative and mysterious and completely engaging. I don’t want to say too much about this piece- as watching the mystery unfold is truly a pleasure. I will say it has goggles and ninjas and was one of the most unique pieces I have seen in years. Boasting an excellent cast and it also wins best director for the weekend. I will read more of Ms Washburn’s work as well, since her eyes seemed to be focused on the horizon of the future of theatre. And it is a future I want to be part of.
The night ended with Elmeno Pea by Molly Smith Metzler. I will be honest and say that on paper, this was the piece I was least excited about. Bringing audiences to a lavish guest house on Martha’s Vineyard, I was expecting to see a feel-good chick-flick where two working class sisters bring those snooty rich yuppies down a notch. But it wasn’t. Digging far deeper than just a reflection on class, this piece brought up an incredibly insightful and inflammatory outlook on a women’s issue. Amazing set design and great performances from the entire cast. It also featured one of the most exciting and stirring monologue for a woman I have ever heard. So actresses take note. I do hope that we see someone like PTC bring this amazing piece for women to the stage.
The next day, after a director brunch and a great panel on Mentoring Women in the Arts, and then it was off to see Maple and Vine by Jordan Harrison. It was always amazing to see the design work featured at the Humana Fest and this piece takes the best costume award.
The last show of the weekend was Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them by A. Rey Pamatmat. And it was a lovely way to end. A coming of age story with three of the most well developed young characters I have seen in a long time, I laughed and cried a little too. Best ensemble for the weekend, I was so glad to have the chance to see so many new non-philly actors. My loyalty remains, but my imagination has been ignited.
Of course there were plenty of late night conversations over bourbon with artists from all over the country, sharing mission statements and experiences. It is nice to remember- you are not alone out there. So many amazing artists are working together to create and develop and evolve this craft that we have dedicated out life to. It felt great to feel a part of it.
All in all, it was great to get away from the world I know so well and see a whole different style of acting, directing and even design approach with scripts that are so new and fearless. Most of the plays were over 2 hours- which is alone a daring feat in this world of 85 minute dramas about mean people fighting in an apartment. If these new plays indicate a return to the imagination, to the delight in suspending our disbelief, to the bravery to not make easy narratives or domestic debates- then I am so very excited to be a theatre artist right now. And I am so glad to have returned to Philly to see if we can also tap into this new work. I think our audiences will thank us for it.