Reading a new play is not as exciting as seeing the first production, but there's still a frisson when the cover is turned-and the added benefit that frustration does not require leaving at intermission but just hurling the book aside. Alas, the latest collection of plays from the Humana Festival met the floor several times. Except for Eric Coble's Natural Selection, Adam Bock's Three Guys and a Brenda, and Sharr White's Six Years(also included in New Playwrights), the works are disappointing. Natural Selection, set at a time when the world outdoors is viewed with fear and suspicion, is funny and off balance-a sort of sequel to Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. Three Guysbends gender like a damp willow branch (a theme also taken up with some subtlety by Jordan Harrison's Act a Lady). Six Yearstracks the integration, disintegration, and reintegration (maybe) of the marriage of Phil and Meredith. It's deeply disturbing, tragic, and moving and would make for a very satisfying night at the theater.
Lepidus brings forth the ninth volume of Smith & Kraus's "Best Plays" series, and it's mighty fine. The seven works are all full-length plays, and every one of them deserves production-from university theater to community theater to professional companies. The common theme among these works seems to be outsiders seeking love. Michael Golamco's Cowboy Versus Samurai, about three (and the only) Asians in a Wyoming town, speaks at operatic intensity to the "only" out there, wherever they are. And then there's John Cariani's Almost, Maine, a wonderful play made up of four actors, 19 roles, 11 interconnectedscenes, a rural setting, love in the air, and shooting stars. If your library has the run of the series to which these volumes belong, there's no reason not to get the latest issue. New Playwrightsis strongly recommended for academic and public libraries; Humana Festival 2006would be better appreciated by theater departments in an academic setting.