THEATERnFive Plays in Searchnof a Characternby Katherine DaltonnIn recent years Actors Theatre ofnLouisville’s artistic director Jon Jorynhas come under fire for the relativenweakness of his new play festival. Henshould be happy that this year’s seasonnwas stronger. Like any other genre,nplaywriting is a craft, and if nothing elsenwas evident, it was clear from the eightnplays ATL produced in March andnApril that much of the art of structuringna play has not been completely forgotten.nI wished, sometimes, the playwrightsnhad had more to say; but it’snheartening that several of them at leastnknew how to say it.nWhere the plays had the most troublenwas with characterization — in fact,nthese new plays could be divided intontwo groups: those with characters, andnthose without. While novelist HarrynCrews’ maiden effort at playwriting,nBlood Issue, has some structural problems,nit did have real (or at leastnrealistic) people in it — very wonderfulnand very Crewsian gritty Southernngothic characters. That was enough tonmake Blood Issue, despite its structuralnweaknesses, the best play of the festival.nWriter and rake and very much hisncreator’s stand-in Joe has returnednhome to rural Georgia to his twicewidowednmother and assorted othernfamily for a reunion. He is also there tondig up some truths about his past thatnno one in the family wants to face ornknow. It is difficult to take modernnidiom and make art of it, but that isnHarry Crews’ specialty, and the samenlanguage that makes his books so goodnmade this play. “To tell the truth,” saysnJoe, and Crews has written this elsewherenas well, “I never could trust anman who could get through life cold sober.”nAnd in another equally autobiographicalnline, his mother Mabel saysnthat “no man’s a scandal in his ownnheart.”nThe only other full-length play withnreal people in it, Chadene Redick’snAutumn Elegy, was much weaker. Innthis play a married couple, who retreatednfrom the wodd together after then’29 Crash, now must face separation asnCiel leaves her husband to go off to anhospital to die. It is a moving story, andnthe audience was in tears at the end ofnboth acts, but the language alternatesnbetween flatness and a strained attemptnat poetry. In the end, pity alone is notnenough to make a play.n, Of the plays without characters, or Inshould say in which the characters arengiven very little characterization,nSteven Dietz’s was perhaps the best —nas theater, or spectacle, if not as a play.nGod’s Country is about the Northwesternnneo-Nazi survivalists who perpetratedna string of murders, robberies,nand counterfeitings in the early 80’s.nThis is a play about patriotism turnednto sedition, strong stuff. Dietz insistsnthat he put no words in his characters’nmouths, that the truth of what they saidnin court and in their various books andnpublications is looney enough.nLinked over the course of the playnSuzanna Hay loses her composure as Keith Reddin inadvertently catchesnhis ring in her slip, in a scene from Richard Strand’s comedy of corporatenmanners. The Bug.nnnJULY 1989/47n