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Theatre Review: "Pluto" at Know Theatre

Theatre review by Jackie Demaline, RCN contributor

It’s just an ordinary day on stage at Know Theatre. But of course it isn’t.
 
A blossoming tree has crashed through the ceiling of the kitchen. A three-headed dog (in the person of a Zen-like Torie Wiggins) is sitting nearby on the floor. If you know your mythology – a three-headed dog in the kitchen is never a good thing.
 
The refrigerator occasionally shakes ominously but even worse, the portable radio (a means of communication from a different time) has a mind of its own and what’s on its mind is something very, very bad.
 
The play is the regional premiere of Steve Yockey’s “Pluto,” in a riveting, pitch-perfect production directed by former artistic director Jason Bruffy that is exactly what you want alternative theater to be. 
 
It continues until Feb. 22 – don’t miss it. 
 
It’s 9:30 a.m. and mom Elizabeth (Annie Fitzpatrick) is nattering at her college-age, uncommunicative son Bailey (Wesley Carman), who’s cramming for an astronomy test. He breaks the bad news – Pluto is no longer a planet. 
 
Elizabeth can’t believe it. Not just the world but the galaxy has been thrown off kilter. But of course, her world really is never going to be the same again. 
 
“Pluto” gives a bravura role to Fitzpatrick and she’s a knockout as a sort of ordinary mom who doesn’t want to find anything odd about Bailey, who can go off in a rage in a flash and who spends a lot of time alone in his basement man cave but can still seem like a pretty average kid, maybe with a learning disability. Carman was a stand-out in Northern Kentucky University’s theater program and he’s strong here.
 
Elizabeth’s range of emotions on this ordinary morning (with the time never changing from 9:30 a.m.) can put an opera diva’s to shame – but she has reasons and Fitzpatrick makes it all achingly genuine. 
 
One of Cincinnati’s best actresses, she gives one of the best performances I’ve seen this season. I’m not giving that much away – Yockey starts building a dread-filled, “please, no!” atmosphere early on. 
 
If you watch the news, you know what’s coming and you wish with all your heart it weren’t. 
 
What’s terrific about “Pluto” is that while the destination is predestined, the journey is always unexpected. Yockey never hits you over the head, he shows great compassion. He even offers a monologue late in the play which makes some sense of that which is senseless.
 
Bruffy and his cast (which includes Lauren Hayes as a classmate of Bailey’s and Ken Early as – well, buy a ticket and read the program) knot your stomach by degrees, with the strong support of scenic and lighting designer Andrew Hungerford (Know’s incoming artistic director) and sound designer Doug Borntrager. Good work from costume designer Noelle Wedig, too. 
 
“Pluto” is part of a “rolling” world premiere from the National New Play Network, which means that a worthy play can get more than one production (because theaters want premieres, not second productions.) “Pluto” has four this year, including Atlanta and Orlando. This is the first time a Cincinnati theater has participated in a NNPN program, may it be the first of many.
 
For reservations and information call the box office at 513-300-5669 and www.knowtheatre.com.
 
Photo provided