Know Theatre is presently staging Steve Yockey’s new play Pluto, the second of four “rolling world premieres.” The work is not easy to describe, to watch or to like. That’s not to say it’s not worth seeing — but it’s challenging.
Yockey’s script crosses wires between reality and fantasy. Annie Fitzpatrick plays anxious, high-strung Elizabeth, and Wesley Carman is Bailey, her sullen son, struggling with course work and relationships at a nearby community college. At a kitchen table in a nondescript but pleasant suburban home, they have an awkward parent-child conversation. We learn that her husband, Bailey’s father, died strangely and unexpectedly some years earlier. She and Bailey have grown distant, and she’s troubled by his behavior, although she keeps insisting, “It’s a normal day, just like any other.”
That’s decidedly not true.
A blossoming cherry tree hangs upside down through the fractured ceiling. Actress Torie Wiggins sits on the floor, playing Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the Gates of Hell. (She has neither three heads nor a canine appearance; in fact, she is also a grief counselor, and Wiggins looks more like that.) Occasionally Elizabeth’s refrigerator shakes madly, as if possessed; it becomes a portal through which Death himself clambers into the kitchen seeking Bailey. Actor Ken Early arrives in a deep-sea diver suit and helmet, beneath which he sports a stylishly tailored dress suit.
Before the madness begins, mother and son discuss his astronomy class (which he’s failing). He tells her Pluto is no longer a planet, but she doesn’t believe him. That’s the first of many signs and denials as a radio delivers news flashes (sometimes spoken directly to Elizabeth) of a horrific shooting at a local community college. When she checks the time, it’s stuck at 9:30 a.m., obviously a frozen moment of horror and grief.
As the pieces begin to fall into place, the characters, real and mythic, are vividly portrayed, steered by Jason Bruffy’s sharp direction. I suspect Pluto won’t be to everyone’s liking — gun violence and death are graphically portrayed, framed variously by dark humor and poignant sentiment — but it’s a play that creatively presents painful emotions that are both poetic and powerful.
PLUTO, presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati, continues through Feb. 22.