Traveler: Louisville’s Humana Festival Of New American Plays

3 people at podiums in front of audience
Humana Festival of New American Plays

Courtesy Actors Theatre of Louisville

Behind you, a nervous playwright. To your left, a Hollywood casting director. To your right, the head of a major Manhattan theater. In front of you, a story on stage that you—and everyone in the audience—is experiencing for the first time.

While familiar stories—from King Kong on Broadway to School of Rock on the road—make up much of today’s theatrical landscape, Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays offers something different: five brand-new works, impeccably produced and featuring top on- and off-stage talent. No wonder professionals and patrons from around the world attend each year. OK, the surrounding bourbon bars are a plus.

Since launching 43 years ago at Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Humana Fest has produced three Pulitzer Prize–winners and launched dozens of works to future productions (The Phoenix Theatre’s upcoming The Christians premiered there). There are duds, too, but even those are always worth talking about. Try to see at least three (plays, not duds), which will run around $200 per person. Various ticket packages are available.

The festival runs March 1 through April 7 and is constructed in a way that, in a single weekend, you can see all five plays on ATL’s three stages. If your tush can take it, you can even do three in a day. Past years had plays performed in parked cars, on T-shirts, and via telephone, but there are no such gimmicks this year. The likeliest breakout is The Thin Place, exploring the line between life and death. It’s by Lucas Hnath, a Humana Fest staple who also penned Hillary and Clinton, which is about to open on Broadway starring Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow. Hnath broke big on Broadway with A Doll’s House, Part II, now one of the most-produced plays in the U.S. (including at the IRT this month). Also on the bill, the Iraq-set The Corpse Washer, adapted from Sinan Antoon’s acclaimed novel; How to Defend Your Life, set in a college self-defense workshop; the satiric Everybody Black; and We’ve Come to Believe, showcasing performances from ATL’s professional training company.

We recommend not reading up on any of them, though, since one of the pleasures is having little or no idea what you are about to see.

Actors Theatre of Louisville’s onsite restaurant, Milkwood, is owned by Top Chef standout Ed Lee. His more casual joint, Whiskey Dry, is nearby.

The Omni Louisville ($229/night) opened last year with a full spa and a bowling alley.