younger woman whose quirky babbling and dumb-blonde exterior cover a wise and shrewd manipulator who somehow always nails the truth. The actor's wife, a successful TV talk show booker, finds her husband and the woman together in their home one afternoon, and from there it's downhill all the way for the actor. He wants out from marriage to his "perfect" control-obsessed wife, out from the industry where he once thrived and where now only the untalented seem to survive. But he's ill-equipped to deal with this new reality, and he ends up homeless and a sorrowful lot. The play's conclusion seems false and not what one would expect, but it doesn't take away from the power of the work. And if The Scene does come to New York, it must do so with its Humana cast, who were so right in their roles: Stephen Barker Turner as the actor, Anna Camp as the seductress, David Wilson Barnes as the friend, and Carla Harting as the wife, under the direction of Rebecca Bayla Taichman.
Six Years is a beautifully structured play by Sharr White, focusing on the effects of war on two people, even years after the war is over. It opens in 1949 with a soldier returning to his wife. We're not quite sure where he's been, but we do know he's been through a traumatic experience. We revisit them six years later, and then every six years until 1973—six years after the couple, now separated, lost their son to the Vietnam War. Beautifully acted (by Michael J. Reilly and Kelly Mares, among others) and directed (by Hal Brooks), the play needs to tell us more about its characters, whom we really know very little about, so we can better empathize with them—especially the son, whom we barely know and whose fate is the turning point in the couple's relationship.
Act a Lady by Jordan Harrison looks at a group of men in a small Midwestern town in 1927 who decide to put on a play dressed as women. When he was commissioned by a town in Minnesota to write a play that would speak to the community, Harrison discovered in the course of his research that it was a custom in the Midwest, from the 1920s through the '50's, for men to play all the female roles in a wedding party, and they took it very seriously. In the play, the male characters begin to explore a new facet of themselves: They are all straight men (except for one), very masculine, but each seems to find and enjoy various degrees of femininity within himself that he's never been in touch with before. Eventually the characters in the play-within-the-play intertwine with the real-life figures; there are even scenes in which the female characters appear as their male counterparts. The second act gets a little murky, but Harrison explores an interesting concept here, and the performers, under Anne Kauffman's direction, are superb: Paul O'Brien, Matt Seidman, Steven Boyer, Suzanna Hay, Cheryl Lynn Bowers, and Sandra Shipley.
Eric Coble's Natural Selection starts with a unique and potentially great premise. The play is set sometime in the future at a theme park that takes Disney's Epcot to the extreme: The park's staff travel to remote places to capture the natives and bring them back to populate the theme park's villages. It is a world of virtual reality where all communication is through the computer (including soccer lessons and school plays). But, here again, the second act takes the comedy over the edge to a point of ridiculousness, so much so that the central characters want to "leave this world of make-believe" and return to the real world. ATL's artistic director, Marc Masterson, was at the helm, with Jay Russell and Melinda Wade as the central couple and Mark Mineart, Heather Dilly, and Javi Mulero as various other characters.
Hotel Cassiopeia is Charles L. Mee's second collaboration with Anne Bogart and her SITI Company in a four-part series exploring the works of American artists. (The first, bobrauschenbergamerica, was seen at the festival in 2001.) This play, which was performed by the company under Bogart's direction, focuses on artist Joseph Cornell (1903–72), who was best known for his collage boxes (a friend of Mee purchased one titled "Cassiopeia," giving the play its name); the result is a living collage of Cornell's work and thoughts. Cornell filled his boxes with a variety of found objects, and it's these objects that form the basis for the set and props. The artist also loved film and dance, and Mee uses all of this to shape his script. As in other Bogart collaborations, the beautifully conceived images say more than words can express. If you're not already very familiar with the subject matter, however, much of the play may seem too esoteric and hard to appreciate. Barney O'Hanlon turned in a handsome portrait of Cornell, and the versatile Ellen Lauren was captivating.
The theme of this year's apprentice-company anthology was Las Vegas, a place as far from reality as one can get. The 17 sketches by seven playwrights—Liz Duffy Adams, Dan Dietz, Rick Hip-Flores, Julie Jensen, Lisa Kron, Tracey Scott Wilson, and Chay Yew, all dealing with some aspect of this desert city—were mostly funny, some serious, and even included big Vegas-style production numbers, with Hip-Flores serving as musical director. The apprentices hit the jackpot under Wendy McClellan's direction.
The festival's three ten-minute plays were all to the point. Rolin Jones' "Sovereignty" is a contemporary Blue Velvet, with trouble lurking beneath all those smiling faces. "Three Guys and a Brenda" by Adam Bock (last year's The Shaker Chair) returned festival audiences to role reversal: Three gals play guys, and one of them wants to take out their supervisor, Brenda. And finally, Jane Martin's "Listeners" pokes fun at how our phone conversations may be under government scrutiny.
Mention must be made of the high production values of every single show, courtesy of Actors Theatre of Louisville's costume, light, and sound designers, and especially the theatre's longtime scenic designer, Paul Owen. (There was a special exhibition of his work in ATL's upstairs lobby; an interview with Owen, by Back Stage correspondent Michael Grossberg, will appear in an upcoming issue and on our website.)
I've already mentioned ATL's apprentice program. Unfortunately, the deadline for applying has just passed, but the theatre is still offering internships in various departments, including arts administration and company management, communications, development, costumes, lighting, scenic design, and technical direction. There's no pay and housing is not provided, but the opportunity to work at the theatre would certainly be worth your time investment. For more information, go to www.actorstheatre.org, write to Actors Theatre of Louisville, 316 W. Main St., Louisville, KY 40202-4218, or call (502) 584-1265.
And playwrights, if you've written a one-act, you have until Nov. 1 to submit it to ATL's National Ten-Minute Play Contest. Entries will be acknowledged in January 2007, with the winners announced shortly thereafter.