New Plays to Rouse The Social Conscience
Playwrights at Actors Theatre of Louisville tackle issues such as abortion, abuse, and self-esteem with power and clarity
THE advantage in seeing three new American plays in a single day, 10 in a single weekend, is the irresistible vitality you feel at work in the American theater. Excellent productions by first-rate acting and directing talents give new plays the best possible shot at recognition.Skip to next paragraph
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In the spirited atmosphere of the 17th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, even lesser works tend to stimulate the viewer's imagination. What may be rather raw writing comes across as robust. What might be merely opaque can appear profound. But the total experience is bound to reacquaint even a jaded appetite with the pleasures of the theater.
This year felt like the Year of the Woman because so much of the programming revolved around issues of particular concern to women. Struggles from abortion rights and wife-battering to the sexual abuse of children and the search for identity found their way into this season's comedies and dramas.
Joan Ackermann, a Massachusetts playwright and founder of the Mixed Company Theatre, presented `Stanton's Garage,' a poignant comedy featuring an odd assortment of troubled and obsessive people. When broken-down cars are brought to this small-town garage, the brilliant mechanic may fix them instantly - or not.
At Stanton's Garage, however, a breakdown leads to the opportunity to think through the meaning of one's life and actions. A doctor on her way to meet her fiance has the chance to think about how manipulative and demanding he is and how much he undermines her self-esteem.
The doctor's soon-to-be stepdaughter reveals an affection and respect for her just when she feels herself most despised - quite a touching moment, if a tad predictable. The two women end up fixing the car themselves.
Other eccentric characters drift through the garage, meeting coincidentally and naturally, offering each other a little wisdom, peace, or renewed affection. Ackermann's generous humanity makes vivid the lives of ordinary people in their environment. She never sinks us in sentimentality because she keeps her pace brisk, her wit sharp, her action clean and clear, and her characters interesting. Nothing very deep here, but cheering, graceful, and basically affirming nonetheless.
`Shooting Simone' is a literate, witty take on the life of Simone de Beauvoir, mother of feminism, and her unconventional, nearly life-long relationship with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, father of Existentialism.
Playwright Lynne Kaufman explores the premier feminist's inconsistent subservience to Sartre with a gleeful resolve not to judge her too harshly. De Beauvoir herself, confronted by a young idealist filmmaker, acknowledges that it was hard enough writing down the philosophy, she shouldn't be expected to have to live it, too.
Despite its good intention and fine production, I found myself irritated with the frivolousness of the subject, of reducing De Beauvoir's life and thought - even her relationship to Sartre - to such flaccid terms. However one feels about the author of "The Second Sex" and her philosophy, there was so much more to say about her than Kaufman manages. What does penetrate the trivialization is a sense of how human and needy even the most solitary of all philosophers might have been.
Without doubt, the most demanding and accomplished of the social-issues plays was Jane Martin's (a pseudonym) `Keely and Du.'