Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Know Theater's 'Rebel County' edgy, engrossing

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

        “Being 22 is the greatest opportunity anyone was ever given.” So advises the ghost of James Dean in the new drama In Rebel Country by Kevin Barry, being produced by the Know Theater Tribe at Gabriel's Corner.

        The lessons of youth, discovered and undiscovered, are what confront two small-town friends as they make a trek from Elm Creek, Neb., to Fairmount, Ind., to visit the grave of their screen idol.

        Johnnie (Tom Gannon) is an obsessive movie buff who can name the year and director of seemingly every film ever made. Jamie (Josh Bokelman) has nar rowed his obsession strictly to James Dean. He knows every fact from Mr. Dean's few years (or does he?) and would rather live Mr. Dean's life than his own.

        Along the way, they pick up Lizzie, a savvy hitchhiker from Los Angeles who alters their journey and adds an element of potential violence to the trip.

        Mr. Barry sends his characters through the rebel country of the American Midwest, a sort of empty heartland without a heart. He adeptly blends flashes of humor and poetry to the gritty language and stark reality of this engaging highway to the unknown.

        According to the program, Mr. Barry wrote the role of Jamie specifically for Mr. Bokelman. One can easily see why. Mr. Bokelman is mesmerizing and em bodies the restless soul of the play as a contemporary rebel without a direction. He brings a disarming coolness to his performance both as Jamie and as the ghost of James Dean.

        Mr. Gannon interacts well with Mr. Bokelman as the more cautious Johnnie who finds his own unique solace in James Dean.

        Gladys Pope as the wordly Lizzie nicely displays her toughness but needs more of a contrasting slyness and seductiveness that's called for in the role.

        Director Jay B. Kalagayan keeps the pace constantly moving along the interstate and through the graveyard and seamlessly blends the play's many audience asides and short monologues with the action between the characters.

        The set design by Terry Brueneman is a cold stretch of highway (complete with the yellow line that cuts diagonally across the stage) surrounded by an eerie maze of wood that fences in the characters.

        In Rebel Country is a step forward professionally in performance and production for the Know Theatre Tribe since their staging of Mr. Barry's American Standard last December. In Rebel Country is the sort of edgy and engrossing work that might prove to be Know's niche in Cincinnati's rapidly expanding theater scene.

        In Rebel Country, through May 27, Gabriel's Corner, 1425 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine, $10. 871-1429.


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