Review: The Twentieth-Century Way

Cincinnati Refined - By Daniel Traicoff

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 onelong 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.

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© 2013 by Kimberly Faith Hickman. All rights reserved