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

Jens Rasmussen & Mike McKeogh

Critic's Pick
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.

REVIEW: The Twentieth-Century Way... Everything That's Exciting About The Theater

Jens Rasmussen & Mike McKeogh
In 1914, America was a very different place. World War I was occurring across the globe. The economy was on the verge of an upswing. And the boom of cities was just beginning. All of these shifts, of course, set the stage for some very real social change. One facet of this evolution was the nation’s relationship to (and sometimes-public conversation about) homosexuality, something still discussed and debated nearly 100 years later.
The Twentieth-Century Way is a deceptively simple play — the entirety of which is performed by two actors on one set. This is where they uniquely and intelligently delve into the issue of America's perspective on homosexuality in the early 1900s.
The play's depth and originality is apparent from the outset. When first entering the theater, audience members find a man pacing impatiently around the stage. Little did we know that the play had already begun. The man, we soon find out, is Mr. Brown (played by Michael McKeogh) and he is simply waiting for an audition. By the time the lights dim to (officially) start the play, two hours have passed for him.
In walks Mr. Warren (played by Jens Rasmussen), a mysterious character who joins Mr. Brown in the waiting game of an audition. To pass the time, Mr. Warren suggests to Mr. Brown that they test each other through one long impromptu performance. This exercise, however, is more than just a game, it's the equivalent of an arm wrestling competition to test one's machoism.
Mr. Warren starts their role-playing with a scenario that’s quite familiar to most actors: the need to find outside work for money. The jobs that Mr. Warren suggests, though, are nowhere near the traditional forms of work we would expect — even at the turn of the century.
Their hypothetical work begins with a job examining the zipper on everyday pairs of pants. Mr. Warren notes that these pants create easy access for men to perform certain acts on one another, in both public bathrooms and their personal homes. He then suggests to Mr. Brown (who is portraying a police officer), that they would be able to find as many “social vagrants” as possible and bring them to the cops.
This play-within-a-play action continues, becoming the driving force of the production. What was truly impressive was how deftly each of the actors managed and executed the large variety of characters they embodied. In a matter of minutes, the audience would witness them switch between cops, reporters, gay men, and then back to their original characters. Each of these character-switches was done flawlessly, utilizing slight accents or costume changes designed to help the audience distinctly differentiate between the roles.  
The Twentieth-Century Way showcases everything that's exciting about the theater: talented thespians, powerful character development, unique perspectives on relevant issues, and subtle (but hilarious) humor. The Know Theatre's production is not only an insightful and imaginative trip into history, it's also an opportunity to reflect on the America of 2014.

Review by Daniel Traicoff originally published in iSpyCincy.com

Apr 6, 2014

20th Century Way Review: Rasmussen... Touching, Abusive, Dizzying

Jens Rasmussen & Mike McKeogh

"Rasmussen and McKeogh largely disappear into the sea of characters. Just when you're certain that one of them is dominant, the dramatic tide turns. And then turns again. They strut and prance and glower and hustle. They're touching and insensitive and abusive and ... well, they go through more emotional shifts than there is room to describe here. It's dizzying, right up to the final moments, when Jacobson offers us the most surprising dramatic twist of all."

Full review below:

"The Twentieth-Century Way" starts awkwardly. It's 1914 and two actors – Mr. Brown and Mr. Warren – have shown up to audition for the same film role.

Maybe the situation is supposed to feel awkward. But it also feels forced. You want actors to act, of course. But you don't want it to look like they're acting. You want it to seem "real," whatever that means when you have two people in period costumes standing in front of a paying audience. How real can it be?

Playwright Tom Jacobson's "The Twentieth-Century Way," which opened Friday at the Know Theatre, is a history play. But it's not one that leads you through the plot from point A to point B to point C. In fact, it is told in such an eccentric manner – "convoluted" is too negative a word – that you're never quite sure what story you're watching.

Is it about the two actors in 1914? Or the two actors in 2014? Or is it about the dozens of other characters whose lives intersect with the story? Or is it something else altogether?

Historically speaking, we know that Brown and Warren, played by Michael McKeogh and Jens Rasmussen, respectively – hired themselves out to the Long Beach, Calif., police department to capture "social vagrants." That was a favored description for gay men, particularly those seeking assignations in public places.

They wooed their marks, flirting, leading them on until they had enough evidence – or not – to have them arrested. Never mind that Brown and Warren were the initiators of the crime.

The story itself is only a small part of this play. There is a curious and increasingly mesmerizing symbiosis between the two men. Are they themselves gay? Or are they just desperate for work? Or are they driven by some twisted desire for power? Or something else?

Sometimes Jacobson's script zips around so quickly that it's hard to quite know when one of the main characters morphs into someone else. At one point, they even drift into the script of "Othello."

Fortunately, director Kimberly Faith Hickman devises all manner of guides to shepherd us through the tale: a change of lights, a flower in a lapel, a pair of glasses. And then, of course, there are her actors. Rasmussen and McKeogh largely disappear into the sea of characters. Just when you're certain that one of them is dominant, the dramatic tide turns. And then turns again. They strut and prance and glower and hustle. They're touching and insensitive and abusive and ... well, they go through more emotional shifts than there is room to describe here. It's dizzying, right up to the final moments, when Jacobson offers us the most surprising dramatic twist of all.

"The Twentieth-Century Way" is not a play for lazy theatergoers. You can't sit back and just let bits of entertainment wash over you. That's a legitimate theatergoing experience, too. But this is a play where you need to focus and keep up with everything that unfolds in front of you. If you do, you'll be richly rewarded.

By David Lyman and originally published by The Cincinnati Enquirer