Rachel Street & Louisa Frey in Wendy Gough Soroka’s Grace. Photo: TheatreWorks of So In.

Humanity Festival of Ten-Minute Plays

Various writers and directors

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023, by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

If you think the name of this evening of short plays sounds like a play on the legendary Humana Festival of New American Plays, I’ve no doubt thaht it is, but the word “humanity” is also a meaningful description of the themes and concerns of these playwrights. Death, grief, and the difficulty of human connection make for an evening of pathos leavened with a consistent sprinkling of humor.

Robert Weibezahl’s Gown (directed by Emily Trinkle & Allen Platt) takes a simple idea of a mother and daughter trying of wedding gowns and enables a beautiful transition from uproarious comedy to gentle compassion, turning comedy into tragedy and then into triumph of living every moment for all it is worth. Heidi Platt, Rachel Street, and Vidalia Unwin hit all of the right notes here.

A Telegram in the World of Smartphones by Brandi Eaton, directed by Max and Maren Gosman works a similar tone, with a young engaged couple (Rachel Allen & Brian Bowles) visiting an unusual burial plot/wedding present. The play skirts maudlin sentimentality in its conclusion but pulls it off with a sweet note of timeless romance. Jack Francis also is featured, but exactly how and why is a spoiler.

Coping with loss is also at the center of The Sitting by Pamela Kingsley, directed by Keith McGill. As with Gown and Telegram, the full sense of what is happening comes in a twist, but Kingsley illustrates how we don’t necessarily need to understand the action to pursue its healing effect. The final twist verges on the melodramatic, but the strong performances of Brian Bowles and Carol T. Williams bring discipline to the moment.

A Jewish man anxiously attends shiva for his Bubby (grandmother) in Ahavah by David Lipschutz and Dana Hall (directed by Steven Rahe). Anxious because he is with his gentile girlfriend, who he has never introduced to his family but has told them she has converted to Judaism. The writing is less serious here but the very funny dialogue is nicly realized in the playing of Kelly Kapp and Clint Nowicke as the couple, and their is gentle reconciliation with truth and integrity.

Pamela Kingsley’s Boxes, directed by Valerie Canon, forcefully addresses the ravages of Alzheimer’s on a woman (the excellent Heidi Platt) and the patience turning into frustration of a close friend (Vidalia Unwin). The true nature of their history reveals deep wells of conflict and crucial questions of identity at the core of the play that feels more like a scene lifted from a longer, more complex play. Let’s hope Kingsley is at work on realizing the full ambition of this intriguing juxtaposition of identity conflicts. 

The Library by Gary Wadley, directed by Martin French imagines a last minute visitor (Brandon Saylor) just before the library closes. To the librarian (Louisa Frey) he anxiously blurts out verse in iambic pentameter because he suffers from what he refers to as an “affliction”. She is understanding and the neurodivergence is framed comically but with compassion, a small study of simple acceptance replacing fear and suspicion.

A high concept time-travel tale is played for laughs in Howard, by Mark Harvey Levine. and directed by Emily Grimany, an examination of individual choice, the insidious nature of regret, and the uselessness of attempts to make sense of temporal mechanics. Jack Francis is even better here, and Brandon Saylor and Mark Merk both have a lot of fun playing Howard.

Two parents stress out about having to tell their daughter some traumatic truth about the way Christmas actually works in Keith Whalen’s Breaking the News, directed by Taylor Clemons. This one is played strictly for laughs, was well executed by Kelly Kapp and Clint Nowickie, and elicited a good deal of recognition from parents in the audience.

Be My Qur’antine by Yu-Li Alice Shen, directed by Mike R. Price offers a vaguely defined friendship between two women. Vague in that there are suggestions of greater intimacy and understanding but their interactions are defined by the distance necessary in a pandemic. Playful and ruminative, Mohammed (Nazaneen Ehsani) is a Muslim while Lark (Rachel Allen) is merely in an Islamic Studies class, so she is the one who keeps quoting from the Qu’ran, the brash pride in discovery of a college student. I liked the writer’s feeling for the sense of possibilities rendered impossible.

The most unusual piece of the evening, at least in terms of tone, was Wendy Gough Soroka’s Grace, directed by Emily Grimany. One part violent murder (before the play begins), one part sexual abuse trauma, and one part sisters bonding in a fierce fashion, it makes manifest the image of a dark and bloody ground and boldly merges it with women’s empowerment. Louisa Frey and Rachel Street are both very good here.

Humanity indeed. In all of its forms and expressions. Of course, it could be said that this is what theatre always does. Yet I would commend the range of sensibilities at play here, encompassing victims of sexual abuse, trans identities, LGBTQ+, and neurodivergence. And all of it played out with sensitivity by a good cast and shaped by good directors. That veterans such as Carol T. Williams, Heidi Platt, and Vidalia Unwin are so solid is not a surprise, but every shorts festival brings new faces (at least to me) and I was particularly impressed by the work of Louisa Frey and Brandon Saylor.

Humanity Festival of Ten-Minute Plays

February 22, 23, 24, & 25 @ 7:30 pm
February 26 @ 2:00 pm

TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana
203 E. Main Street
New Albany, In 47150

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.