Two broken people flee to the forest, in some ways seeking an escape from their problems and in other ways looking for a way to confront them. That premise is not at all unfamiliar to the stage, but “SuperTrue,” being a production of Know Theatre of Cincinnati, injects a healthy dose of weird into the formula, keeping it fresh. “SuperTrue” is the story of Janelle and Martin, two people standing on the precipice of 40, staring blankly at the cold truths of middle age: missed opportunities, wrong turns and the cruel, despotic ticking of the biological clock.
Both of these characters are wounded idealists. Martin (James Creque) developed a promising piece of technology that could do real, tangible good for the world, only to see it exploited by a wealthy investor and used to funnel money and power to the upper echelons that already possess both in abundance. He does contract work for a much younger boss and struggles to hide just how fragile his ego has become after experiencing deceit, betrayal and a loss of power.
Janelle (Nicole Jeannine Smith) is recovering from an unspeakable trauma she witnessed while working as a teacher for young, undocumented girls. She wants nothing more than to have a child of her own, but nature has cruelly thwarted her efforts with difficulty conceiving and multiple miscarriages. Both Creque and Smith affect a delicate balance between their I’m-okay-with-this facades—thanks in no small part to playwright Karen Hartman’s sharp wit—and the deep, fresh scars they’re failing to disguise.
Most striking about this production is how beautifully the complex relationship between humanity and nature is handled. Janelle develops an unhealthy grudge with a deer early on (played boldly, weirdly, by puppeteer Elizabeth Chinn Molloy). The deer is replaced later with a lost child (played by the same. Yes, the same.) The sounds of nature usually turn out to be the tones of Martin’s phone. Martin himself yearns for some sort of masculine fulfillment—the ability to build something or fix something independently—but his instinct is to seek help from family, contractors or the Internet whenever something doesn’t go as planned.
But nowhere is the humanity/nature relationship more dazzlingly defined than in Sarah Beth Hall’s set design. Every scene is set in the woods, but these woods are made of green shirts and brown paper with lines of code written on them. The forest comes alive with some cleverly placed light projections. In the first moments of the play, Janelle hangs laundry on the front porch, almost literally adding trees to the forest while lamenting that she never learned to do it properly. Later, at a key moment when the opportunity for self-examination finally arrives, the set literally opens for the revelation.
“SuperTrue” is a story about confronting trauma and disappointment and finding a way, if not to put them behind you, then at least to find meaning in them. The show runs through February 10 at the Know.
Zach Moning is the communications manager at ArtsWave. Reach him here with questions or comments about ArtsWave Guide.
Casting note: Actor James Creque will play the role of Martin through opening weekend, with actor Derek Snow stepping back into the role of Martin beginning January 24