Janice Walter & Laura Krause in Closer One September Morning. Photo: HAC

New Play Festival at Highview Arts Center

Various writers and directors

A review by Brian Kennedy

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Brian Kennedy. All rights reserved.

Ten plays in one place, most of them pretty good, are on stage as part of Highview Arts Center’s New Play Festival this weekend. 

The Festival features ten original short plays unrelated in subject matter but featuring plenty of opportunities to laugh, cry, and think, depending on the play or even the moment in the play. Kentuckiana playwrights, directors, and actors worked on each of the plays. 

The plays were mostly well-written, directed, and performed. First Impressions, which Michelle Lori created and Bailey Preston directed, appropriately opens the festival. Bea (Melissa Bowen) readies herself for a major interview with some unconventional help from her friends (Ryan Lash, Abby Braune, and Nicole Greenwood). The actors clearly had fun performing this one, which included bongo drums and an obsession with warblers, making this a great opener to the festival. 

On the more emotional side, Clarity Hagan’s Be My Escape featured college roommates Sadie (Bernadette Stone) and Abigail (Devin Johnson) struggling with changes and feelings for each other. This well-written production had many layers of tension and frustration that Tory Parker expertly directed. Audience members could feel the mounting emotion that Stone and Johnson brought forth. This was one to think about long after the festival.

A play featuring a decent mix of comedy and drama was Closer One September Morning, which Martin French wrote and Marc McHone directed. The play featured good chemistry from Anna (Laura Krauser) and Jennsy (Ciera Imani). However, Neil Diamond (Janice Walter), on stage like the rockstar the character is, clearly stole the show. 

Some plays simply needed more from the actors or a clearer script. Night Train, which Rachel White wrote and Bailey Preston directed, lacked chemistry between the characters Ernie (Jerry Ross) and Annalise (Krauser). The show had many levels and themes to explore, but the actors’ lack of emotional range kept the show on the surface. 

Meanwhile, both Blake Cox’s Uncle Sam, directed by Ashley Taylor and Jeremy Beck’s Five-Five-Five, directed by Angela Miller fell short. The actors involved performed as well as they could with scripts where plots and whatever points the playwrights were trying to make were hard to determine. 

Perhaps the best play of the night was the last. Taylor Vetter’s Feng Shui, which Angela Miller directed, deals with James (Griffin Cobb), his partner Kevin (Ross), an office worker Carole (Felicia Stewart), and the high turnover and absences at the office. This play earned the biggest reaction of the night, and Jerry Ross was the reason why. He is absolutely hilarious with his robotic-like mannerisms, facial expressions, and line delivery. 

The New Play Festival features, for the most part, plenty of laugh-out-loud and emotional moments. It’s only running this weekend and, if the nearly full first night is any indication, tickets may go fast for this one. 

Featuring Abby Braune, Melissa Bowen, Griffin Cobb, Ev Davis, Darien Dean, Nicole Greenwood, Ciera Imani, Devin Johnson, Laura Krauser, Ryan Lash, Lucas Rogers, Jerry Ross, Rosemary Sims, Felicia Stewart, Bernadette Stone, Janice Walter, Ryan Watson, & Avery Wilson

Feng Shui by Taylor Vetter
Directed by Angela Miller

Uncle Sam by Blake Cox
Directed by Ashley Taylor

Be my Escape by Clarity Hagan
Directed by Tory Parker

Baggage Claim by Erin Fitzgerald
Directed by Ashley Taylor

Five-Five-Five by Jeremy Beck
Directed by Angela Miller

I’m at a Loss by Erik Moth
Directed by Taylor Vetter

RADIO PLAY by Cisco Montgomery
Directed by Neil Brewer

Closer One September Morning by Martin French 
Directed by Marc McHone

First Impression by Michelle Lori 
Directed by Bailey Preston

Night Train by Rachel White 
Directed by Bailey Preston

New Play Festival at Highview Arts Center

March 10 – 12, 2023

Highview Arts Center
7406 Fegenbush Lane
Louisville, KY 40228

Brian Kennedy is a nearly life-long Louisville resident who has performed in plays since 2004. He also wrote extensively about the Louisville theatre scene for Louisville.com and Examiner.com from 2009-2015. Currently, he maintains the theatre blog LouBriantheater. When not involved in the theatre scene, he is an avid runner, participating in 5Ks throughout the state and in southern Indiana.