Kentucky Cycle Part I
Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre
Old time Kentucky Shows True Grit
If you like westerns and true grit and a new sense of pioneer realism, go see The Kentucky Cycle at the MET, and be prepared for an extensive look into the unglamorous past of the characters that shaped the American nation.
To begin, The Kentucky Cycle presents nine one-act plays over a two night period. Confusing, yes, but each part stands alone as a complete performance. Part one began Oct. 25 and continues through Nov. 7. Part two begins Nov. 7 and runs through Dec. 2. The show contains nine plays, five in part one and 4 in part 2. To better understand the concept of these one act plays, think of them as chapters in a book. Each "chapter" takes place in a different period of Kentucky over a 200 year span and through several generations of three families.
Expect to see the dirty under story of the makers and shakers of early America. Gone are the images of friendly Pilgrims, welcoming Indians, a spirit of camaraderie and unified growth. Instead see, mean, angry, spiteful, gritty characters that fight against the elements to carve out a living in a harsh land. The play goes against the norm in that it presents no hero and an assortment of unsavory characters locked in conflict throughout generations. Everyone knows of the Hatfields and McCoys. Similarly, The Kentucky Cycle sets two opposing families battling for supremacy, the Rowens and Talberts. But, like all soap opera settings, the families intermingle and that complicates situations and forwards the conflicts.
With the 200-year time span of the story, expect to see one character portrayed by several actors, as he ages. That being the case, evaluation of each character must be done by actor and not the character (because several actors portray the same character at different stages of life). Know ahead of time that very talented, skilled actors portray small parts, demonstrating the depth of the overall cast that director Karen Paisley assembled. Undertaking a huge project like The Kentucky Cycle necessitates a large, highly-skilled troupe of thespians.
Begin with giving accolades to Paisley for her perfection in casting more than credible actors in this outing. The casting follows a trend with the MET to present top-notch classical productions with equally skilled actors. Paisley's production debuts The Kentucky Cycle to Kansas City audiences, and as such, she crafted the characters, sets, lighting, sound, and design from scratch. Further give credit to her house crew who work behind the scenes with the stage management and production crew to master the tone for The Kentucky Cycle.
To better understand the play, look at each chapter as it develops in front of the audience. The Kentucky Cycle Part 1 contains five segments: "Masters of the Trade (1775)", "The Courtship of Morning Star (1778)," "The Homecoming (1792)," "The Ties That Bind (1819)", and "God's Great Supper (1861)."
"Masters of the Trade" sets the tone of treachery and anti-heroic characters as a seemingly lone survivor of a massacre approaches a trader. Surprisingly, this former immigrant, a.k.a. Michael Rowen, deftly played by Matt Leonard, wants far more than just a warm fire and bite of food. His unsympathetic hostile ambitions lead to disastrous results for the trader, Earl Tod, played by Chris Roady. Further despicable deals with Taskwan, portrayed by Andy Penn, show his unflattering character and sets in motion the wickedness that continues throughout generations. The theme set here exemplifies the motto that the evil one creates lives on in generations to follow. Watch closely as the talents of Roady, Penn, and Matt Leonard set the tone for current and future conflicts. Chapter one, develops the idea that not all Americans stood for strong principals always associated with American pioneers as seen in 1930s westerns and early TV shows. Moving on, chapter two depicts "The Courtship of Morning Star." Again, do not expect the white-washed heroic story or Pocahontas falling for an upstanding Miles Standish. Instead, brace for an angry encounter with several twists and malicious actions of Michael Rowen as he expands his family, his heartless cruelty, and self-serving aspirations with his new wife, Morning Star, brilliantly portrayed by Manon Halliburton. Actually, Halliburton ages throughout the show and only portrays the one character in several chapters. Her spot on, focused performance gives those opposite her much to work. Leonard further develops his character in this chapter and gives glimpses of things to come from his evil persona.
After this comes "The Homecoming," a chapter what will at first confuse audiences until they realize that Leonard now portrays Patrick Rowen, Michael' son by Morning Star. The part of an elder Michael Rowen further develops as a very talented Scott Cordes undertakes the elder Rowan and forwards his malicious character. In this chapter, continue to expect perfection from Leonard and Halliburton, but add to that a strong, focused performance by Jessica Franz as Rebecca Talbert and Cordes as the elder Rowan. Act Two begins with "The Ties That Bind" and jumps forward about 25 years to 1819 and a new generation. Some actors, again, take on new (or in this case, older characters). In this chapter, watch for new persona of evil, Jeremiah Talbert to chew up the scenery and spit out former strong characters. His malice knows no ends, and his character strengthens as he devours the seemingly invincible and unstoppable Rowen family. Coleman Crenshaw stands apart from others in this chapter as the newest malignant character to grace the stage. Audiences can love his performance and hate his character. And, to lighten up even the most hateful segment of the show, watch for a humorous performance by Donovan Kidd as an unnamed deputy of the new Kentucky "legal" system. Kidd uses his immense acting skill and delivers the only lightheartedness in a desperate play.
The final chapter for The Kentucky Cycle Part 1, "God's Great Supper," moves the play to a crescendo. The conflict between the Rowen and Talbot families continues through yet another generation and to the time of the Civil War. Here local audience members learn about the infamous William Quantrill and his massacre on the city of Lawrence, Kansas. The Kentucky Cycle unmasks Quantirll's notorious methods and unthinkable murders of others. While the methods and ways of Quantrill appears cold-hearted, so to do the previous killings performed by members of the Rowen family.
When the show ends, the audience leaves with the idea that it's intermission of Gone With the Wind. Scarlett's iconic line against the setting sun: "With God as my witness, I will never be hungry again," creates a similar feeling to the ending of part one. To find out how this sage continues, audience members need to wait a month until part two.
With this mega-undertaking to present The Kentucky Cycle, a hugely talented cast preforms the show. Part two contains four more chapters to bring the story to current times (1975). Expect to see minor character undertake more difficult and meaty roles as new character come into play.
For those who like to follow specific actors the cast consists of: Scott Cordes, Coleman Crenshaw, Kyle Dyck, Jordan Fox, Jessica Franz, Hannah Freeman, Christopher Gleeson, Bethany Hall, Manon Halliburton, Gregory Hayden, Whittaker Hoar, Shawn Holliger, Donovan Kidd, Greg Lane, Matt Leonard, Michael McIntire, Liaia McKenzie, Sherri Roulette-Mosely, Elijah Murray, Bob Paisley, Rob Pagenkopf, James Paisley Bill Pelletier, Andy Penn, Chris Roady, Elissa Schrader, Alan Tilson, Bradley Turner, and Will Andrews-Weiss.
Anyone who enjoys American history will enjoy The Kentucky Cycle. Those who like a accurate depiction of the raw, grit that forged this country from its inception will enjoy the unglamorous, unflattering glimpse of America's early days . Those who like cowboy and Indian type shows will love this production. Those wanting fun, fluff, and happily ever-after will not applaud this effort. That said. The MET presents a quality, deep, gritty production that will amaze and entertain audiences. Plan to see part one and then see if you can resist part two. What a great show!