By PAM HARBAUGH
LOUISVILLE, KY — The final day of the 2015 Humana Festival at the Actors Theatre of Louisville ended with a bang. No whimpers here.
For us, it began with “That High Lonesome Sound,” a collaborative work by playwrights Jeff Augustin, Diana Grisanti, Cory Hinkle and Charise Castro Smith. It was directed with elegance by Pirronne Yousefzadeh and featured the talents of the ATL’s Acting Apprentice Company.The play included music, both instrumental and vocal, performed by the acting company. It is a series of vignettes in which music plays a significant role. It takes the audience through Kentucky backwoods and coal mining towns, to a spring break enjoyed inhabited by Kentucky college students and summer camp designed to help raise up impoverished children. We seem that poignant yearning, resonating with myth and the kind of deep emotion that can only be expressed through the dissonant strains of mountain music. The smart and tender play is what the Humana Festival does so well.
The final show was one that both thrilled and maddened audiences. It was “The Glory of the World” written by Charles Mee and directed by Les Waters. The play is a theatrical contemplation on the life and writings of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and prolific author.
The cast included 18 men, which some women in the audience found extremely exclusionary. Where was the righteous indignation, said one female director. She expected the women in the apprentice acting company to feel royally put out…literally left out of the festival’s “big show.”However, considering that this was an “etude” of sorts about Mr. Merton, I chose to keep my personal feminist blood pressure in check by looking at this as being set in a monastery. Indeed, the men in it have only each other which whom to speak, to socialize, to pontificate.
And really, you’ll never see such big and bold direction than that here by Mr. Waters, who told me he collaborated in part with the playwright.
It is set in a large garage of sorts that you might find in an industrial park. It begins with a man sitting center stage with his back to the audience. Words are projected onto the back wall, urging the audience to slow down and pay attention. This takes six minutes, which is a long time on stage. But, it’s keeping within the monastic theme.
Suddenly, an upstage garage door opens and in comes 17 men singing happy birthday to Mr. Merton. The layers get piled onto this birthday cake, bringing the audience through an evocative kiss-dance, Dionysian partying, haughty talk by the cognoscenti, an over-the-top fight that could rival anything you’ll see on “Game of Thrones” and a naked man running around the stage.
I doubt if you’ll have a chance to see this play done anywhere in these latitudes. It has the aroma of experimental to it and is also extremely demanding physically. It was a wild ride at the Humana, and despite objections by my sisters and my enlightened brethren, I’m glad I saw it.
For more information on the Humana Festival, be sure to visit the Actors Theatre of Louisville web site by clicking here.