The 43rd annual Humana Fest will attract more than 38,000 to town. | Courtesy of Actors Theatre

When the curtain rises Friday night on the first production of the 43rd annual Humana Festival of New American Plays, the audience will be treated with what is anticipated as being one of the theatrical gems of the 38-day affair, “The Corpse Washer.” The play was adapted for the stage by Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace from the 2013 novel of the same name by Sinan Antoon.

After that, four more brand-new plays will make their stage debuts to an audience of more than 38,000 people throughout the Humana Fest’s run from March 1 through April 7. Among those attendees are journalists, film and stage producers and theater lovers from all over the world.

Single tickets are available for each show, while supplies last, and there also are weekend ticket packages and other options.

Here’s a rundown of each play, along with a summary provided by Actors Theatre of Louisville.

“The Corpse Washer” — March 1-April 7

Adapted for the stage by Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace from the novel by Sinan Antoon; directed by Mark Brokaw

In an Iraq beset by decades of war and occupation, Jawad faces a difficult choice. Must he follow in his father’s footsteps washing the bodies of the dead — an honored Muslim tradition — or can he pursue his dreams of being an artist? Adapted from Iraqi writer Sinan Antoon’s award-winning novel, “The Corpse Washer” is a haunting portrait of a young man coming of age and a society’s fight for survival in a country where life and death are inextricably intertwined.

“The Thin Place” — March 5-April 7

Written by Lucas Hnath; directed by Les Waters

Everyone who ever died is here, just in a different part of here. And if you listen, really listen, you can hear them — in the thin places — the places where the line between our world and some other world is very thin. It’s like if you were to imagine an octopus in an aquarium, pressed up against glass … except that there’s no glass and no octopus. An eerie new play by the Tony-nominated author of “The Christians,” “Death Tax” and “A Doll’s House, Part 2.”

“How to Defend Yourself” runs March 13-April 7.

“How to Defend Yourself” — March 13-April 7

Written by Lily Padilla, directed by Marti Lyons

Your body is a weapon. So says Brandi, who starts teaching her peers self-defense after fraternity brothers assault one of her sorority sisters. Joined by two male classmates who show up in support, the group learns how to fight back, while wrestling with their own complicated experiences and desires. But how much can a class actually teach them about protecting themselves — and each other? Visceral and provocative, “How to Defend Yourself” examines the impact of rape culture on campus and beyond.

“Everybody Black” — March 19-April 7

Written by Dave Harris; directed by Awoye Timpo

When some wealthy white folks offer a big paycheck, a black historian agrees to write the definitive version of The Black Experience. The problem is, the historian has never met another black person. What emerges is a blisteringly funny satire filled with unforgettable characters, including a brazen Barack Obama here to set the record straight, and a talk show about black people addicted to dating white people. With searing wit and bold candor, “Everybody Black” explores how we chronicle — and make sense of — black history.

Philadelphia playwright Dave Harris brings “Everybody Black” to the Humana Festival. | Courtesy of Actors Theatre

“We’ve Come to Believe” — March 23-April 7

Written by Kara Lee Corthron, Emily Feldman and Matthew Paul Olmos; directed by Will Davis; performed by Actors’ Professional Training Co.

Consider the raw power of groupthink: hordes of collectors losing their minds over the latest consumer fad, hundreds of followers duped by a charismatic leader, and entire communities gripped by irrational panic. How do so many people come to share the same bizarre beliefs? How would we know if we are the ones who are deluded? Three fearless playwrights dive into the absurd and sometimes hilarious world of collective delusion and the alarming places it can lead.

Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."