Know Theatre’s annual Fringe Festival uses the motto, “Kinda weird. Like you.” That could be an apt description of its production of The Bureau of Missing Persons, a new play by Lila Rose Kaplan getting its second full production this month (the first was in New York City a year ago).
This is the directorial debut for Know’s new associate artistic director, Tamara Winters. A non-naturalistic piece of theater that explores emotions more than events, The Bureau of Missing Persons is an intriguing story, poetically told. Winters’s solid staging of Kaplan’s poetic script should satisfy Know audiences. Grief is a powerful, sometimes debilitating emotion, and two schoolteachers have been overwhelmed by disappearances, endings and possible deaths. Angela (Kate Glasheen) lacks the will to return to everyday life while obsessively knitting dozens of scarfs. Simon (Sam Ray) has retreated into a defensive cloud of happy disbelief regarding his wife’s whereabouts. Together they journey optimistically to a cave in Moscow in search of the missing, a trek that generates as many questions as answers.
Richard (Rico Reid), Angela’s fiancé, is frustrated with her immobility and befuddled by her inexplicable departure. Vivian (Adrianne Underhill), Angela’s mother is full of unhelpful advice. Patrice (Burgess Byrd) is a subversive grief counselor who steers and shapes the progress of Angela’s recovery. Glasheen turns in a textured, poignant performance as the anguished Angela; Ray’s childlike demeanor (Simon teaches kindergarten) is endearing. Other roles function more as points of view than as believable characters.
Kaplan's script is infused with the magical realism found in the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, and the evocative play’s fanciful plot takes amusing leaps that lack logic but make emotional sense. The Bureau of Missing Persons is a distinct and welcome alternative to holiday productions, a thoughtful — perhaps weird — exploration of how people can overcome tragedy and get on with life.
Prior to the performance Artistic Director Andrew Hungerford announced that Joe Stollenwerk’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale will be Know’s next production (Jan. 23-Feb. 21, 2015). The one-woman show had a nine-performance outing by actress Corinne Mohlenhoff at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in April 2011. She will return to the work for Know, and Brian Isaac Phillips, Cincy Shakes’ artistic director, will stage it.
THE BUREAU OF MISSING PERSONS, presented by Know Theatre, continues through Dec. 20.