Heather Green & Katie Graviss Bechtler. Photo:John Rectenwald
By Bob Clyman
Directed by Tony Prince
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2019 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
In biology, evolution is usually defined as “…the change in the characteristics of a species over several generations and relies on the process of natural selection. The theory of evolution is based on the idea that all species are related and gradually change over time.”
Yet humanity is a species that can shape its destiny at levels beyond all other creatures, or at least we assume. Rich celebrities bribe officials to ensure their kids get into the best schools, parents sue over poor grades, and if nature denies you the ability to procreate, science provides several methods to do it anyway.
In The Exceptionals, playwright Bob Clyman extrapolates the next level of human development, imagining a high-level program combining eugenics with social breeding. Two women have been the recipient of anonymous sperm donors drawn from a pool of exceptional men and their sons are growing up in the program together.
Except now they have reached a crucial moment in which the five-year-old boys are candidates for an even more controlled boarding school program, and this puts the mothers, already at odds, in competition for the final remaining slot.
Gwen (Heather Green) is a polished, over-anxious Ph.D. candidate alienated from her husband, and Allie (Katie Graviss Bechtler) is a rough around the edges high school graduate packing the latest Danielle Steel novel and married to Tom (Eliot Zellers). Allie and Tom are hardly exceptional, they are in fact average with a capital “A”. Tom is admittedly intimated by their son’s intelligence and reluctant to use the insemination program again. He wants a child with a normal IQ.
The program administrator, Claire (Mandi Elkins Hutchins) is a charismatic and controlling bureaucrat, alternately dominating with authority and feigning compassion and Machiavellian skill. Ms. Hutchins’ performance embraces those contrasts, maneuvering around the others with height and severe haircut, but swathed in a form-fitting red dress that pushes the boundaries of her officious nature.
Heather Green’s Gwen is explored with forensic attention to detail, peeling back layers until we find the painful vulnerability and insecurity. Katie Graviss Bechtler is more easily engaging as Allie, covering her innate intelligence with the non-nonsense common touch of Middle America. The balance in this dynamic cannily connects the audience immediately and arguably masks the deeper questions at play here. Once Tom enters, the cozy domestic context is reinforced by a fourth strong performance from Eliot Zellers, yet there is also the specter of good people’s earnest desire to do right by their families being exploited for social engineering.
In these themes, and reflected in the set design, the story told in Clyman’s play crosses the line into speculative fiction. It postulates the immediate future of a society that offers up privacy and values on the altar of progress. I left the theatre feeling uncertain about what I thought and how I felt. If art is meant to unsettle, The Exceptionals does exactly that, in ways that sneak up on the audience under the guise of social comedy.
August 29, 30, 31, September 5, 6, & 7 @ 7:30 pm
September 1 & 8 at 2:00 pm
Tickets: $20 in advance, $22 at door
The Liminal Playhouse
Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.