2:37PM

Humana: crossroads of the American theater

Ya gotta love a theater festival that starts with a cocktail party — especially the classy parties at wealthy supporters’ houses that light up the Thursday night start of the Humana Festival’s Special Visitors Weekend (formerly Critics Weekend, but that’s how it is for critics in this new world).

Me, I ran into a director I knew only in passing in college, almost 50 years ago. I may not recall the name of the person I was just introduced to a minute ago, but John Hancock sticks in my mind, and not for its 18th century ring. A couple of years ahead of me then (he’s probably younger now — criticism ages a man faster than directing), John was already a director with professional skills, and I remember most especially that he did NOT cast me in his production of “The Plough and the Stars” my freshman year.

But mainly, John is famous to me as “the man who killed Pittsburgh theater.” He was artistic director at the Pittsburgh Playhouse just after Bill Ball started ACT there and then decamped for the west. (I think they ended up in San Francisco or somewhere.) John was at the Playhouse when I interviewed for a teaching job at Pitt, but by the time I arrived a year later, he’d decamped, too, and the Playhouse was dark. Apparently his theater was too edgy for Pittsburgh royalty: Mr. Mellon didn’t like it when Charles Durning peed on stage in something by Brecht — that’s the story.

You may have seen John’s name attached to some pretty good movies — “Bang the Drum Slowly” is my favorite, partly because I was introduced to it by the author, Mark Harris, who also (later) taught at Pitt. So it’s been fun seeing John … and lots of others. As I always say, the Humana is the crossroads of the (not-for-profit) American theater. Oh, and there are plays to see, too. More about them later.

Chris Rawson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette