Reaching the end of their 50th anniversary season, Actors Theatre of Louisville is once again presenting the Humana Festival of New American Plays with six newly produced plays being performed over the next month. Last night saw the opening of “The Grown-Up,” the most recent work from playwright Jordan Harrison who is returning yet again to the Humana festival with this chilling story.
The Grown-Up tells the story of Kai Shearwater, a boy who finds himself speeding through the stages of life upon turning a magic crystal doorknob. Less about the actual doorknob and the magic behind it, Kai’s story explores the timeless theme of growing up in a way that is both clever and haunting. The play is very quick, speeding towards an ending with fast delivery and constant action just as Kai’s life speeds towards an end. I was first reminded of Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town,” but I soon found it to be something different entirely. Harrison has created a script that explores childhood innocence and what it means to be a “grown-up.”
The tone of the performance interested me the most, as many in the audience seemed to find it very funny. Although jokes were frequent and funny, the script’s strong themes and heightened language keep the story grounded into deeper meaning at all times. I found myself less attached with the characters and more attached with the ideas they shared, which isn’t a bad thing. The script kept my attention throughout with unique characters and plot points that never felt predictable.
The show makes great use of the Bingham Theatre, with a set design that is barebones enough to convey every aspect of the story without needing much change. There is a clear ensemble atmosphere in the room in which nearly every actor played multiple parts with shifting narration. This chamber theater quality works with the minimalist set for a very imaginative performance with dedicated acting from all on stage, although the quick line delivery was a bit too frequent and occasionally lost in the narration.
Regardless, Harrison’s story will both entertain you and leave you thinking well after leaving the theater.
“The Grown-Up” runs through April 6, along with several other new plays that have yet to premier. Check out a full list of shows and more information about the Humana festival here.