May 2, 2014

Rasmussen... brave, talented, absolutely perfect

Sometimes I go to the theatre with the intention of sitting back and being entertained. Sometimes I don’t want to have to think too much and sometimes I just want to laugh a lot. Well, I laughed a few times during The KNOW Theatre’s brilliant production of THE TWENTIETH CENTURY WAY, but I certainly didn’t get to sit back during this frenetic 90 minutes of intensity.

I’m not even sure how to describe the show to you. The description I’d read doesn’t really tell the full story of what this play is. And I absolutely will not spoil it for you. But suffice it to say, what I thought I was going to see – a show about two out of work actors hired to trap gay men into arrests in the 1920s – is way understating it.

The friend who went with me – who is himself a brilliant actor – helped me understand the show in a different context. He said it was a show about acting. He’s right . . . but upon further reflection, I think that it is a show about truth. Raw, naked, intense, real, authentic truth and how that truth is experienced on stage and off by actors.

Jens Rasmussen and Michael McKeogh were absolutely perfect in their portrayals of multiple characters. There were jarring transitions but not once was I lost, thanks to the deft directoral hand of Kimberly Faith Hickman and the marvelous performances. These are brave actors, to be sure, and talented ones. I will be lining up to see them perform again.

The KNOW has another knock out hit with this show. If they can continue to produce MainStage masterpieces like PLUTO and THE TWENTIETH CENTURY WAY under the artistic leadership of Andrew Hungerford then they are going to be a force to be reckoned with. You should see this show – but don’t come unless you’re willing to work for it. It does pay off and in spades.

Apr 9, 2014

The 20th Century Way gets ★★★★ from League of Cincinnati Theatres

Panelists for the League of Cincinnati Theatres (LCT) have recognized Know Theatres The Twentieth Century Way with a 4 Star rating.
Long Beach, California, 1914. A scourge of homosexuality plagues the city.The Long Beach Police hire two actors to entrap gay men in the crime of “social vagrancy.” In an empty theatre, two actors meet while awaiting an audition. As tension between them mounts, they find themselves playing the story of a near forgotten piece of American history — a story from a time when people were prosecuted for daring to be themselves. But the truth of who these actors really are is slowly exposed as the story unzips.
Panelists called the play “a gem of a production” with a “fascinating, multilayered” script: “The Know Theater has another hit with The Twentieth Century Way.” Director Kimberly Faith Hickman was praised for “her fast-paced direction, for the balance between pathos and humor, and for making sure that the playwright’s thought-provoking points were emphasized.” Both lead actors in this two person play, Michael McKeough and Jens Rasmussen, were also commended: “A dazzling display of acting for both…McKeogh’s performance was clever, energetic, and at times created a level of empathy I haven’t felt in years at the theatre.”

REVIEW: The Twentieth-Century Way is an 85-minute Uninterrupted Tour de Force

Critic's Pick
Jens Rasmussen & Mike McKeogh

When house lights dim and a play begins, every theatergoer prays to witness something that entertains, transports and, in the best cases, transforms. Every so often a play delivers all three, embracing and transcending theatrical form. Tom Jacobson’s The Twentieth-Century Way, receiving its regional premiere at Know Theatre of Cincinnati, does just that.

The Twentieth-Century Way is an 85-minute uninterrupted tour de force by actors Michael McKeogh and Jens Rasmussen. They play all the parts in the obscure yet true story of two out-of-work actors who go undercover to root out vice in Long Beach, Calif., in 1914. Their sting operation leads to the arrest of many prominent men in the community engaged in “social vagrancy” — gay behavior then against the law. Rasmussen, who has appeared in two previous Know productions (Skin Tight, Gruesome Playground Injuries), plays Warren, the confident “confidence man” who instigates the plot.

Chicago-based McKeogh makes his Know debut as Brown. They meet at a casting call, and to kill time they begin a conversation that leads to an improvisation comprising this play within a play.

New York-based Kimberly Faith Hickman, who has worked on Broadway and off-Broadway productions (she served as assistant director for The Assembled Parties, The Scottsboro Boys and Clybourne Park) directs an impeccable production that has been meticulously designed to allow the powerful performances and fantastic writing to lead you easily through the theatrical and metaphysical complexities of the play. The first moments are a tad dense and slow, but they set up all the conventions needed for this highly layered experience. A reflection on identity, sexuality and the “acting” we need to do to survive, the play unfolds itself as the actors reveal themselves all the way down to the bare flesh of truthful intimacy.

Eric Vosmeier, Know’s outgoing artistic director, passed the torch to his incoming counterpart Andrew Hungerford (who also contributed the gorgeous scenic and lighting design for this play) during the curtain speech and indicated this was more Hungerford’s play than his. This bodes well for the future of Know, a theater that has earned its keep over and over against the odds. The Twentieth-Century Way is precisely the reason why Know Theatre is worth supporting long into the future.