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An App for Empathy: A Review of Know Theatre’s “SuperTrue”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of SuperTrue: Know Theatre

It is refreshing when Cincinnati theater companies produces a world premiere play because we are witnessing theatrical history-in-the-making.  Know Theatre is making history of its own by hosting the world premiere of SuperTrue by playwright Karen Hartman.  SuperTrue follows the trials and tribulations of Martin (played by James Creque) and Janelle (played by Nicole Jeannine Smith) who are dealing with mid-life crises.

Martin is stuck in a dead-end computing job after losing control of his big idea to his backer who has made a fortune. In order to change their luck around, as well as to help with Janelle’s trauma after witnessing an attack at the school she founded, the couple decide to spend the summer in a cabin by the woods. However, their Walden-like life in the woods is interrupted by mischievous deer and a small immigrant girl whom Janelle befriends.

Creque and Smith are both wonderful in their roles as an embittered forty-something couple trying to make sense of a world that has left sense far behind.  Both are able to deftly deliver playwright Hartman’s zinging one-liners and acid commentary. While their arguing gets a bit strident at times, both actors know how to work off each other to make the audience believe they are actually a married couple going through a rough patch.

Creque’s portrayal of Martin as a man who has been forced to settle and is uneasy with that role felt grounded and believable. Nicole Jeannine Smith’s descent into the nether regions of her character’s anxiety was also particularly well crafted. The play leaves things somewhat unclear about whether Smith’s character Janelle is imaging some of the events which happen, so her journey becomes all the richer as a result.

Special kudos go to Elizabeth Chinn Molloy who has a several puppet roles that she has to put on. Without spoiling her role in the production, Molloy’s minimalist puppets nicely round out most of the minor characters who appear in the play. By having these other characters played by puppets, it heightens the intensity of the latter half of the show.

Director Holly L. Derr has a small space to work with (the show is being held in the Know Theatre’s Underground), but uses that limitation to her advantage. Part of the stage bleeds over into the audience on one side, thereby creating the illusion of a forest.  Adding to the illusion are the green shirts hanging on the clothesline that sub for foliage. Derr’s direction is precise and direct, making the most of the stage dimensions and getting the audience into the action.

While this was not one of my favorite plays staged by Know, SuperTrue is wonderful in the way that is discusses so many contemporary issues.  It got me thinking about the things raised in the play the day after—a positive sign. I also loved the fact that it deals with middle-aged characters who have gotten banged up by life.

SuperTrue runs Wednesdays through Sundays until February 10, 2018.  Please note: James Creque who was discussed in this review is only performing opening weekend.  Know Theatre veteran Derek Snow will be taking over as the part of Martin for the remainder of the performances.  For more information, please visit Know Theatre’s website https://knowtheatre.com/season-20/supertrue/.