There is a common theme to the latest productions in the Humana Festival. Finding oneself, and the journey towards doing so, make an appearance in both of the productions that opened this week, Gnit, and O Guru Guru Guru or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you, which opened Friday night as part of the 37th annual Humana Festival at Actors Theatre.
Guru, like Gnit, is in a way, transformative. In Guru, that transformative nature emanates from every aspect of the production. Designers Brian H. Scott, Andrew Lieberman, Darron L West and Asta Bennie Hostetter excel in their efforts, which transport the audience from a stark and sterile lecture hall to a locale that blossoms with a richly golden ambiance.
From the moment the audience walks into the intimate Victor Jory Theatre, they know that this production isn’t what they’re used to. Gone are the traditional programs, which have been replaced by simple half-page leaflets, welcoming viewers to a lecture entitled, “why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you.”
As the lecture begins, Lila (Rebecca Hart) enters, and begins to speak. And speak. And speak. Hart has such a rich and expressive voice that you could listen to her for hours. Which is good, because she is about to embark on one of the longest monologues in the history of theatre.
For nearly thirty minutes, Lila tries to respond to the question of why she won’t go to yoga class with you. But, as is often the case, the answer is more complicated than the question.
As Lila expounds on her past, of growing up in an ashram and the unconventional parenting practices she was subjected to, Lila frequently mentions parts of memories—but admits that she cannot remember the particular circumstances of the events. This is especially odd when Lila presents a gift given to her by a significant player in her life, but she cannot recall the reason why.
It seems that this recurring admission of forgetfulness should be explained later on, but that is not the case; these partial memories remain hanging threads throughout the production.
It would be easy to tune out during such a long autobiography, but Hart uses playwright Mallery Avidon’s intriguing story to capture our attention, and keep it—not an easy task in a room still lit by houselights, giving audience members the opportunity to continuously scan the faces of their peers.
And just when the audience gets comfortable with the lecture format of the evening, things change. Quite drastically.
The rest of the production follows a trajectory which may leave some in the audience mildly uncomfortable, due to its (voluntary) participatory nature; an ironic twist since Lila earlier expresses her dislike for “audience participation.” But on this opening night, many in the house played along and found themselves immersed into the story.
Until once again, they were jolted to a different reality.
While giving away further details of the performance would undermine the entire experience for most, it is sufficient to say that Avidon and the cast make it quite clear why Lila doesn’t want to go to yoga class with you.
And by the end, you just might not want to go to yoga class either.
Guru is directed by Lila Neugebauer and continues through April 7 at Actors Theatre. Tickets to this production, as well as to the other Humana Festival productions, are available online or by calling 502-584-1205.
Image courtesy of: A.Simons/Actors Theatre of Louisville