For years, I have pitched the idea that knowledge and beliefs are two different thought processes. The former deals with facts and data. The later with assumptions. Each leads to a different type of truth. Knowledge is about truths that can be verified, within one’s own experiences, and across the experience of other people. Beliefs are about truths which give one a sense of meaning and purpose. Facts and data without meaning are merely interesting points for conversation and crossword puzzle clues. Assumptions without evidence are merely wishful thinking.
Things I know to be true? Is this about the truth of knowledge or beliefs, or the convergence of both.
Thinks I Know to Be True, by Andrew Bovell, is about the process of a family developing and recognizing all the things they believe to be true. Then, they challenge those beliefs through lived experiences in the process of the children becoming adults and the parents letting them become themselves.
Do not expect a Cosby Show sit-com setting, in realistic stage setting, household business, and naturalistic dialogue over a cup of coffee before the adult children and Mom head off to work, and Dad goes out to tend to the garden in his retirement. No, this is somewhat of an Aussie (it is set in a working town region of Australia) mash up of Bertolt Brecht monologues and Martha Graham movements, intersperse with Harold Pinter family drams scenes. “Oh-no”, you say? “Fabulous”, I say.
As to the staging, we walk into and through a garden to get to our seats, of which there are about 50. This is an intimate family drama with us being three walls or shrubs, I’m not sure which, of the suburban garden. The floor, our seats, and the ceiling are in dark hues, with the far wall of the garden supporting roses on unseens canes, or trellises. The roses are illuminated by floor recessed LED lights which can change their hue from pinks to reds to purples. The roses ascend the wall as if suspended so delicately that we cannot see the structure which supports this garden (hint: symbolism).
With the opening scene black-out, Bob (Timothy Cummings), and his four children Pip (Betsy Norton), Mark (Andrew Calvert), Ben (Jake Stanely), and Rosie (Coco Lane Rigbye) enter and the dance begins. We hear a phone ring as the children recite lines about the dreaded phone-call-in-the-middle-of-the-night, as they move toward Bob, eventually supporting him on four sides, as he retreats from, then reaches out to answer the phone. We, as they, are left wondering, who is calling at such a time. And, at this time of the play, one character, Fran (Karen McKeney) is not on stage. We will not learn about that phone call for another two hours. Get those tissues out (yes, that is plural, truly).
But, the next hour and twenty minutes will be a series of scenes in which each child presents their developmental milestone toward adulthood. Love, lust, materialism, friendships and rejections, striving for acceptance into a different social and economic class, moral and legal decisions, being authentic to one’s identity, becoming one’s parents, rejecting one’s parent’s life decisions. But, don’t worry this is not an undergraduate level Family Dynamics and Development, three-credit course at the university. The cast under the guidance of director’s Ann-Marie Pereth and Joseph D. Kucan, demonstrate each concept in a fluid and flowing sequence of movements, poetic introspections, and interactions between mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons (yes, those are all plural, as in universal truths).
And, so we spend an afternoon (in our case) or evening, identifying what we know to be true, then testing our facts and data, and questioning our assumptions. In the end, we, along with Rosie, are tearing out all of those pages in our diary on which we wrote down those truths. Our siblings float in, as if in our dreams which clarify our experiences, adding their pages. And, we put them all together to tear them up. But, what does this action mean? (If nothing else, you will have used up many of those tissues, which I recommended you bring, and will be tossing out that snotty face-mask which you have been blubbering into for the past hour or so)
The process of theatre has been debated and deliberated for thousands of years. Is this the Greek concept of catharsis? Is this the Roman tradition of comic family-drama poking fun at our foibles? It is an Elizabethan string of penis-jokes and bear-bating? Is it romantic era sublimation of sexual desires into heart-throb heroes and heroines? Is it early twentieth century tragi-comedy, or theatre of the absurd? Is it late twentieth century block-buster, feel-good, sell-out the theatre cash-cows? Is it marvelous comic book superheroes…oh, wait, those are like Greek and Roman gods, so we have circled back two thousand years…
For generations, the audience arrived; the performers performed; the audience left; and, maybe they discussed their experience on the drive home, or went out for coffee, drinks, or a meal. Their reflections remained within their circle. But, live theatre is changing, finding a new place in society. Part of this process, we have noticed is that more of the theatres which we attend are hosting pre-show lectures and post-show discussions, as ways of engaging audiences and making their experience more meaningful.
A Publicfit Theatre Company, in Las Vegas, NV, which produced Things I Know to Be True, has embraced this concept fully. After each show, they set up a row of chairs for the cast and crew who are available (some do have day-jobs to run off to) to talk with those audience members who will stay for another half hour or so. “The BUZZ” the call it. Joseph Kucan hosted our forum, posing questions to the cast and crew and bringing in audience questions for discussion. The event ran somewhat like a talk-show, and somewhat like a therapy session (maybe that is my bias, having just retired from running such events for the past 35 years).
But, this time, rather than being the facilitaror-therapist, I was a participant without leadership responsibility. However, in my work-life, I have been asking clients, “What do we know to be true?”; “How does that guide our decisions in our lives?”; ”Do we have more than just facts and data? Do we have more than wishful thinking”. If Things I Know To Be True comes to a theatre near you, I recommend getting a ticket, and taking lots of tissues, maybe even a note book to write down your ideas. At the end, you will be tearing up those pages, and will have to figure out why.