I started getting really interested in theater about the same time I started getting really interested in girls. That’s probably because I was smitten by a smart, arty girl who was a year ahead of me in high school and who dumped me after going off to Bryn Mawr College and discovering that Ivy League guys were immensely more interesting than that kid finishing high school back in Louisville, Ky.
But before that, on one of our first theater dates, we saw a production of “The Lady’s Not for Burning.”
The performance — this was in the early 1960s — was in a ratty second-floor loft in a downtown commercial building. The impecunious troupe putting it on had taken the grandiose name of Actors Theatre of Louisville.
The production had no sets or costumes and the lighting design consisted of turning them on. A program note, as I recall, explained that this was intentional — a deliberate effort to cut to the essence of theater…blah, blah, blah. I remember pointing the note out to my date and remarking, “When you’ve got no money, make a proclamation of artistic principle.”
“You’re such a critic,” she replied.
A few decades later, I was a critic, and Actors Theatre of Louisville, thanks to its Humana Festival of New American Plays, had become one of the best-known theaters in America. Which brings me to my hope for the New Year: that somebody in our huge theater community will come up with a scheme that makes the Twin Cities the nation’s go-to place for theater.
Don’t ask me what that could be. Theater critics are professional second-guessers. In fact, most of the critics who attended Louisville’s first two-play “festival” back in 1976 said the hit was a play by Twin Cities playwright John Orlock titled “Indulgences in the Louisville Harem.” They dismissed the other play — a two-character comedy by D.L. Coburn called “The Gin Game.”