Marco Rodrigeuz, Paola Murguia, Julio Samayoa, & Catalina Ibarra Hernandez in Francisco Juarez’
Pa’ Gringolandia. Photo courtesy of Teatro Tercera Llamada.
By Keith Waits with help from Arts-Louisville.com contributors
Entire contents copyright © 2015 Arts-Louisville.com. All rights reserved.
We like to take stock at the end of the year. It seems important to us to consider where we have been just as we step past the most significant milestone on the calendar to start the next chapter. Yet, in a community boasting so many producing companies, any attempt to corral a year-end round up of high points can seem a fool’s errand. Memorable shows are bound to be overlooked, and shows mounted in November and December easily dominate the memory.
Still, the opportunity to reflect is difficult to pass up, and any summary of the year onstage would have to include Theatre ’s Failure: A Love Story, a production that was nearly perfect in encapsulating that company’s mission: “…a passion for the recent and relevant and an obsession with quality.” It was a bold milestone for a company that has moved rapidly from nascent to mature in realizing its potential.
February brought As It Is In Heaven from Looking for Lilith, and Arlene Hutton’s script provided a focus on women, in this instance in a Shaker settlement, that fit the Lilith aesthetic and afforded a capable ensemble a rich tapestry of characters with which to shine. Later in the year, the devised production of Prevailing Winds generated discussion about environmental concerns for the citizens of Louisville’s Rubbertown neighborhood; a potent reminder of this company’s commitment to social change.
Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival, always a reliable vehicle for delivering new plays, brought the March world premiere of Chuck Mee and Les Water’s The Glory of the World, which somewhat polarized audiences in it’s unexpectedly unorthodox approach to the work of Thomas Merton. This reviewer found it mesmerizing.
For emotionally gripping drama, it would be difficult to top J.R. Stuart’s production of Mike Bartlett’s Cock for Pandora Productions. It was a draining experience but also so deeply satisfying as to remind us that great art is rarely easy or comforting.
Matt Wallace avoided any sophomore slump in his 2nd year as leader of the resurgent Kentucky Shakespeare, with another splendid troika of plays by the Bard of Avon, distinguished by Jon Huffman’s triumphant turn as Prospero in the Tempest and the treat of witnessing Greg and Abigail Maupin fulfill a fantasy playing in Amy Attaway’s production of The Taming of the Shrew.
Brian Kennedy: “The Addams Family from Acting Against Cancer: very entertaining show all around, great energy, great cast choices, great singing. It was a fun treat to watch this show.”
Keith Waits: Pa’ Gringolandia by Francisco Juarez was a smart and timely original play that solidified Teatro Tercera Llamada’s identity as the Spanish-language theatre company that can deliver quality plays with a focus on social and political themes relevant to both immigrant and general audiences.
Savage Rose’s Words, Words, Words play reading series gave us an uproarious presentation of Carlo Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters that, owing to a witty, fast-paced script, a superlative line-up of talented local actors, and free admission, provided the best value in theatrical entertainment this side of Kentucky Shakespeare.
The 2nd Staff Showcase production from Walden Theatre/Blue Apple Players since the two groups merged, George Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance, was impressive enough to begin positioning this as a must-see. year-end theatre event.
Katherine Dalton: “There is something to be said for a hardy perennial that is done well, such as A Christmas Carol at Actors Theatre. It’s good for theater to be part of an annual tradition, to be a place to see, sometimes, a set piece that the audience can enjoy for its familiarity, as well as a place for doing new or less-familiar plays or other shows.”
Kate Barry: “When I think of Louisville’s theatre scene in the past year, I immediately think of groups like Theater  and the Derby City Playwrights who are steadfast in creating groundbreaking and original plays. I was fortunate to see two plays produced by Theater , Rich Girl and Mr Burns: A post-apocalyptic play and the originality and honesty in these very different shows sums up what its like to be a theater artist in Louisville. Derby City Playwrights showed great promise with their play reading series. When I sat in the audience for Becky LeCron’s premiere, I was reminded how supportive and encouraging the local scene is especially after feedback and critique was given by the likes of Kathi Ellis and Michael Drury.”
Keith Waits: New American plays and original plays by Louisville authors also continued to be the hallmark of The Bard’s Town, who gave us memorable and incisive productions of William Missouri Downs’ Mad Gravity, Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar, and Catherine Treischmann’s Crooked, and provided the opportunity for a range of local actors to deliver top-notch performances.
The Louisville Ballet showed evidence of change and innovation under the stewardship of Robert Curran, with a bold and much-talked-about production of A Cinderella Story that our reviewer, Valerie Canon described as, “…inventive…fluid…brilliant.” The fall Choreographer’s Showcase was a fresh embrace of collaboration with a range of local musicians and composers such as Ben Sollee and Tim Barnes.
Moving Collective never disappoints except in only mounting one production a year, but X, in October, celebrated the company’s tenth anniversary as the model for upstart modern dance in Louisville.
Shaun Kinney: “The Bernstein Mass was by far, the most entertaining, emotionally moving, and evocative performance I have ever seen by the Louisville Orchestra.”
Cristina Martin: “I’m loving Teddy Abrams in his first full year as Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra. The infusion of fresh energy and creative leadership is EXACTLY what the LO – and classical music in general – have needed for a long time. His Music Without Borders program (a concert series in which the LO performs at various venues throughout the community) is an outstanding innovation, and Abrams has been awesome at reaching out to young musicians and making classical music cool for them.“
Annette Skaggs: “In true Opera-like fashion, 2015 provided many moments of deep, emotional outreach. In February audiences were excited with Tennessee Williams’ classic A Streetcar Named Desire given a jazzy and opera treatment by world-renowned artists Andre Previn and Phillip Littell. It was filled with fervor, sexuality and fantastic singing. In May, as part of an initiative to introduce audiences to more contemporary works the Kentucky Opera presented Daron Hagen’s A Woman in Morocco. While I did not care for this particular work as well as some of Mr. Hagen’s other works, it did offer testimony to the lack of rights and respect that women face each and every day.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck the Opera community when General Manager David Roth unexpectedly passed away over the summer. David was a stalwart advocate for the arts in and around Louisville and the community at large. Through a strong and savvy Board of Directors the Kentucky Opera made the wise decision to hire Maestro Joseph Mechavich as Artistic Director and William Blodgett as Acting General Director.
An impressive and dark Macbeth (Verdi) opened the anticipated 2015-16 season to be followed with Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers, featuring the inimitable Denyce Graves. I have to say that it had been a while that I had been as moved by any piece as I was Three Decembers. “
Keith Waits: We could go on: The Who’s Tommy from Center Stage, a splendid Into The Woods from The Mind’s Eye Theatre Company, the treat of seeing two August Wilson plays, Seven Guitars at ATL and The Piano Lesson at the University of Louisville, Chris Anger’s finale to his autobiographical trilogy of monologues, Animal Farm, however many we try to fit in, it is certain we will fail to mention many worthwhile productions, for Louisville is a seemingly inexhaustible resource for live performance, but we end with a reminder that all such lists are by their very nature subjective and illusory.