Know Theatre is known for their alternative, hip style. They like to try new things and under the leadership of Andrew Hungerford, it looks like they’re heading full speed ahead into unchartered territory for professional theatre in Cincinnati. SERIALS!, they first “official” Hungerford-driven project is unique, unusual, and fun.
Essentially, over the summer – about every two weeks – six different playwrights will write a new “episode” of a play that will be performed in installments. Monday was the first night and featured all the “pilot episodes.” As with the usual television rollout each season, I was fully expecting more misses than hits . . . but it was exactly the opposite with SERIALS!
The night began with an affable Hungerford explaining what we’d be seeing, how the format would work, and essentially asking for forgiveness for any snafus that might occur in this new venture. The crowd was firmly on his side; the folks in the Underground were sending good vibes towards the stage.
First up, Chris Wesselman has written a piece called “FLESH DESCENDING,” based on a true event that happened in March of 1876 where there was some sort of meat-disturbance. Venison-like meat, it seems, fell from the clear blue sky. The show starts with Sean Mette and Dave Powell tasting the meat and offering wry, southern observations about it. The piece picks up when a very foul-mouthed Leah Strasser emotionally abuses her long suffering husband, Randy Bailey. Some of the things coming out of her mouth were shocking for the sake of shock, but the crowd responded well. My favorite line was when Bailey’s character, Alan Crouch, said “I now choose to take the high road” after being verbally annihilated. Next time, we’ll learn more about what exactly happened . . . and hopefully by the time the series is over, we’ll get to see Strasser’s “Rebecca,” get her comeuppance.
After a commercial for “alcoholic bread in a bottle” (beer) we were treated to “FETUS AND THE GOD” by Ben Dudley. Dudley also stars in the piece as the fetus, while Ryan Fohl plays an atypical “God.” The premise is that all fetuses get to ask God five questions before they are born and then as soon as they do they are sent to earth. We learn a lot about God from Dudley’s questions. He makes $135,000 a year (but not for what you think). He owns two iPhones. He doesn’t know who shot JR – or Mr. Burns for that matter. And he has a crush on Natalie Portman, who “doesn’t know he exists.” As we end the episode, the Fetus and God set off on a road trip all set to the sounds of John Fogerty. Fetus might have said, “I am underwhelmed,” but I certainly was not and am looking forward to Episode Two.
The third pilot was Michael Hall’s “THE LISTENER,” featuring Adam Penick as an NSA phone monitor. The piece had a film noir feel with a whole lot of “Naked Gun” absurdism thrown in for good measure. Lisa DeRoberts, a true comedienne on stage, plays a wife who apparently has put a hit out on her organized crime lord husband (Mike Sherman) but freaks out when she thinks she might have caused an innocent victim to be shot. It’s much funnier than it sounds thanks to the personalities on stage and the overall vibe of the piece. I enjoyed it.
After intermission, Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek presented a piece (directed by KNOW Associate Director Tamara Winters) called “SATURDAY THE 14TH.” It features a newer face in the Cincinnati theatre scene, Nik Pajic, and area favorite Miranda McGee as two suicidal people who fate brings together on a Valentine’s Day after Friday the 13th. McGee and Pajic’s comic timing and physicality brought guffaws from the crowd and the sharp ironic writing made this my favorite piece of the night. We leave this duo as they prepare to go “crash a party” and I can’t wait to see what hijinks they have in Episode Two.
I was most looking forward to “THE FUNERAL” written by Jon Kovach. Kovach has shown that he is very adept at taking a piece of art and adapting it for the stage – whether it be a short film (“Nothing”), a book (“The Wave), a blog (“Blogging Behind Bars”) and now a song – with successful results. In the pilot, Kovach played a young man who did not want to come down from his room to attend his great grandmother’s funeral. (In future episodes, expect the part to be played by recent Ensemble intern Jared Earland . . . kind of like Darren from Bewitched, the character will be replaced with no explanation!) Kovach’s piece is sharp, funny, and professional. Tara Williams, who plays the mother, is as good an actress as anyone in town and this piece seemed like the start of a pretty well developed series. I’m excited to see where it goes.
Finaly, Trey Tatum (“Slut Shaming” at the Fringe) has written “MARS VS. THE ATOM.” I think Tatum is a really good writer and his wife, Bridget Leak, is a great director . . . but I didn’t really “get” this piece. At least not yet. But I also hated “The X-Files” and thought “Twin Peaks” was too bizarre. So . . . we’ll see where it goes but there were too many unexplained things happening in the pilot for me. I’m hopeful, though, that we’ll understand it better next time!
All in all, I think the Know can consider this experiment a successful one! There was a full house present and people were definitely engaged in the proceedings and I suspect we’ll only see the audience grow. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the crowd got so big they had to move SERIALS! upstairs? It could happen.
Episode Two of SERIALS! will be performed on July 7th at Know Theatre in Over-the Rhine. Tickets are $15. More information is available here. Also check out the information about THE WELCOME EXPERIMENT and also their brand new “Membership” concept on their web site.