Humana Festival: Day 2, Where Things Get Crazy

The Victor Jory is a really special place. I only spent one season at Actors Theatre of Louisville, but I spent quite a bit of it in the VJ. In many ways, it's a typical black box theatre. There is a pipe grid about 18' from zero. It's a thrust stage, with seats on three sides. The walls and the floor are painted black. But it's also tiny and oddly shaped. The main playing space is roughly 18' by 18', but there is an odd trapezoid that goes off into the south and becomes either the shop or a place to store props, depends on the show. The seats are crammed on top of each other. One side of the house doesn't go all the way to the ceiling, so what happens in the VJ does not stay in the VJ. It's an intimate space where the audience is deeply connected to the performers and to the set. Hell, the front row is often part of the play. So, basically I adore the place and no one ever uses it except for rentals.

Until the Humana Festival rolls around. That's when they put the craziest show they can find and jam it into the space that sees the least use and has the oldest technology (I mean, 1990's level of technology). Which sucks for the technicians, but it can be really glorious for the audience.

This year's Humana Festival features a collaboration with the Philadelphia based ensemble, Pig Iron Theatre Co. called I Promised Myself to Live Faster. It begins with a fantastic drag performance of what I think is an original song (it contains the titular line, which is a strong context clue, but hardly a sufficient condition). And then the gay protagonist goes to a gay bar. And then the gay protagonist gets whisked off into outer space by intergalactic nuns who birth litters of homosexuals. The nuns are hunting the Holy Gay Flame, which has been stolen, because it threatens the existence of their homosexual babies. Yeah, it's that kind of show. Which is to say, it's an awesome show.

The drag performance at the top (which is tragically brief, but the actor has a drag cabaret show under the name Marsha Graham Cracker, so you should see if she's playing near you) sets the tone right away: tongue-in-cheek hilarity about a journey of re-discovery and re-connection after a bad break-up. You don't get warned about the Holy Gay Flame or dragon spaceships, but you get the theme. What follows is, as absurd and outlandish as it is, an allegory of sexual discovery, with all of the attendant clunkiness issues that the allegory thing brings.

On the one hand, the moments of discovery and connection are genuine, unforced, and just outrageously funny. On the other hand, you have a lot of very literal jargon about homosexuals and the Holy Gay Flame and Bishop Ahn-nie, who is an orphan (think about it . . . ok) which are necessary in an allegory because the spiritual journey of your characters is also a literal journey (think Pilgrim's Progress, but with a closeted space bishop). Normally, I prefer my exposition to be subtly woven into the show so I don't have to see the machinations and the payoffs land with the force of an unexpected blow. But when you are dropping atom bombs as punchlines, the exposition is a little like anti-aircraft fire. You have to worry about it, but you don't have to worry about it. And before too long, you'll be laughing so hard that you forgot to be worried about it.