BWW Review: SUPERTRUE, A WORLD PREMIERE, OPENS at KNOW THEATRE OF CINCINNATI
Know Theatre of Cincinnati strives to be edgy and original. It often produces plays that are controversial and thought-provoking.
To start off the new year, Know continues that tradition in its production of SUPERTRUE by Karen Hartman --- a world premiere and a dark comedy. Hartman brings to the stage the story of an aging Gen-X couple who grapple with a world gone mad. On stage in this production are Know Theatre veteran Derek Snow as Martin (although James Creque filled in on opening weekend) and Nicole Jeannine Smith as Janelle, making her Know MainStage debut. As Janelle, Snow plays a programmer, but at age 40, isn't the golden boy he once was.
Smith rounds out the cast with a performance as an idealistic educator. She has decided that everything now rests on her ability to calm her life on a porch in a quiet cabin in the Catskills and start over.
Running for 80 minutes without an intermission, SUPERTRUE depicts marital angst with the main characters arguing about jobs, life and love. Smith is loud and boisterous with her husband Martin. They fight about almost everything. Smith portrays a convincing, but agonizing wife. Creque delivers a passionate performance.
This play is not for the faint of heart, although there are several comedic moments.
Know staff first became aware of the script through the community resources of the National New Play Network. SUPERTRUE was also part of The Kilroys list in 2015, an annual compilation of the most promising unproduced new scripts by women and trans playwrights.
Producing artistic director Andrew J. Hungerford points to the unique flavor of SUPERTRUE, in particular the use of puppets as main characters woven into the production. "There are lessons of acceptance and coping in this script that I think are incredibly valuable for the world in which we are living. And it helps that it's super funny and delightfully theatrical," he said.
The technical team, composed of puppeteer Elizabeth Molloy, puppet designer Erika Kate MacDonald, lighting designer Andrew Hungerford, scenic designer Sarah Beth Hall, costume designer Noelle Johnston, and sound designer Douglas Borntrager, create a sometimes tense atmosphere on the porch. Green t-shirts hang from a clothesline surrounding the stage on the main floor or underground of the theatre. Audience members can seat in a ¾ circle with sight lines easy to see the play. The main puppet did not have a face, which struck this reviewer as strange. Set design was basic in beige and black colors.
Hartman often writes about human beings in the crosshairs of history. In the 2016 - 2017 season, she had four productions of three world premieres. In 2014 - 2015, she held the Playwright Center's McKnight Residency and Commission for a nationally recognized playwright. She is also a librettist, writing new dialogue for Mozart's MAGICFLUTE premiering with Pacific Music Works at Seattle's 1,200-seat Meany Center in May 2015.
Hartman and composer Graham Reynolds won the Frederick Loewe Award for Music Theater for their pop opera MOTHERBONE. She grew up in San Diego and graduated from Yale University and the Yale School of Drama. She lived in Brooklyn until 2014 when she became senior artist-in-residence at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Know brought back director Holly L. Derr, who also manned the helm of HARRY & THE THIEF by Sigrid Gilmer in 2014. She said that Janelle and Martin are flawed, but human characters. She is a writer, director and professor of theater specializing in viewpoints and composition, the tools and philosophies of epic theater, and Stanislavsky's system.
"As a public intellectual, I use the theoretical and analytical tools of the theater to reflect upon broader issues of art, culture, race and gender politics," she said. She specializes in performance of gender, applied theater history and new play development.
Derr received an MFA in theater directing from Columbia University in 2002. In addition, she has a BA in theater from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An accomplished professional, she served on the faculties of Smith and Marlboro Colleges. She is currently a producing fellow at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.
Derr considers herself a feminist media critic who writes about theater and uses theoretical and analytical tools of the theater to reflect upon broader issues of art, culture, race and gender politics. After trying acting, she decided she would do better as a director. Her inspiration came from being an avid reader as a child.
Sometimes, you need to get lost in the woods to find your way back home is the play's tag line. Not an easy play to watch with all its human drama, but SUPERTRUE delivers several strong messages about what we all deal with in daily life.
SUPERTRUE runs from January 19 through February 10 at Know Theatre of Cincinnati, 1120 Jackson St., in Over-the-Rhine. Tickets are $25. Visit the website - knowtheatre.com - or call 513-300-5669.