Family really is everything, encompassing both good and bad. Family can be supportive, generous and your greatest advocate – but it can also be confusing, frustrating and hurtful. This is the emotional and relatable territory that "Things I Know to be True," which opened last night at the Milwaukee Rep, beautifully tackles. The American premiere of Australian playwright Andrew Bovell’s moving work runs in the Quadracci Powerhouse through March 31.
Thirty years ago, a man named Bob Price met and fell in love with a girl named Fran. They were soon married, and over the course of three decades, they built a home and raised four strong and spirited children.
If the play were simply about that, you’d be tempted to think that this is sounds like an episode of "The Brady Bunch." Here’s the story of a man named Bob, ‘til the one day when the lady met this fellow, etc. Throughout the course of a year, however, you see both of the parents and the now grown Price children deal with questions of identity and crisis in a way that would probably make the heads of the picturesque Brady family explode.
It goes without saying that every parent wants what’s best for their children. They raise their kids in a way that reflects their personal values; they want to give them all of the things that they were denied when they themselves were growing up. This is what Bill Geisslinger and Jordan Baker effortlessly convey every moment they are onstage as Bob and Fran Price. It is powerful and captivating to see how they handle the weight of things not going quite how they'd planned for over thirty years.
On the flip side, how does a child live up to expectations they feel are impossible to achieve? What happens when you feel like your true self is different than what has been laid out before you your whole life? Can they handle the potentially crushing disappointment to those closest to them, or will they be embraced and accepted for who they are?
This is what Pip (Kelley Faulkner) Ben (Zach Fifer), Rosie (Aubyn Heglie) and Mia (Kevin Kantor) find themselves asking over the course of the play's year, some with more hopeful results than others. Again, a far cry from any of the Brady kids here. No matter how foreign some of the issues may possibly seem to someone watching "Things I Know to Be True," audience members will not have a hard time recognizing the talent that it takes to portray them. Each of the actors playing the Price children are a pleasure to watch, genuinely becoming these people instead of merely acting like them.
A family with unique issues and circumstances certainly calls for a unique way of storytelling. Perhaps that’s why the always brilliant director Mark Clements chose to pair with stage movement director Julia Rhoads for "Things I Know to Be True." This play, which constantly dives into deeply personal topics and relationships, would be ill-executed with artless stage blocking, where one character simply stands and speaks to another. On the contrary, a character’s true motivations and impressions are best expressed when their movement is exaggerated when evaluating it in the real world.
That’s where Rhoads comes into the picture with her unique vision on physical theatre; the variety of different types of movement throughout the performance creatively adds another layer of understanding to what each character is going through. It truly leaves the guess work out for the audience; you don’t have to sit there and question what Pip or Rosie or Fran is feeling at a certain moment; they could not be using a more blatant way of telling you.
Pair this with Scott Davis’ whimsical and energetic scenic design, and you have a story that simultaneously feels like a fantasy and yet a grounded dilemma for a typical Midwestern family.
Here are a few things I know to be true: If you see this extraordinary production during its one-month run, you will be touched in a way you perhaps didn’t anticipate. You will be moved by the struggles and triumphs of the Price family. And you will be inspired to reflect on how you relate to people that are going through something that may be personally unimaginable to you.