Know Theatre’s “A Handmaid’s Tale” is Relevant and Thought-Provoking
Posted On January 27, 2015
Submitted by LCT Panelist
If I’m being honest, I was skeptical walking into the Know Theatre’s production of The Handmaid’s Tale. Margaret Atwood has long been my favorite author, and I spent a full semester of English studying this book in particular. While I was excited to see it come to life, I was scared it would have the same book-to-movie effect where details and even plot lines were cut for the sake of time or budget. Brian Isaac Phillips, however, did not disappoint. Directing his wife, Corinne Mohlenhoff, as the handmaid Offred, I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Atwood’s work through the script adaptation by Joe Stollenwerk. Set in the not-so-distant dystopian conservative future, women are categorized based on their fertility, serving as “handmaids” for wealthy couples that can’t conceive. Offred narrates between her position in the Commander (Fred’s) house and her memories from “the time before,” which sounds like it could be as close as 30 years away.
The set, designed by Andrew J Hungerford, grew on me more and more as the two acts unfolded. The disintegrating walls, burnt wood floor and high windows combined a dystopian underground bunker with a prison cell, only letting in sunlight where you couldn’t reach it. As the show doesn’t aim to be highly “spectacle,” with one set, one costume and one actor, I enjoyed being able to interpret the set as a metaphor as well.
Also deserving mention were the light and sound design, by Hungerford and Doug Borntrager, respectively. The combination of natural stage lighting and overhead fluorescents transported us to either an old school gym, a quiet bedroom or (twice) the doorway to the unknown. Borntrager’s sound design also seemed effortlessly realistic, as I turned around more than once to see which audience member was talking while Offred described a conversation. Even the simplest suggestions of sound in the script were brought to life and pulled the audience closer into the story.
The nature of the show is, as Offred repeats, “a reconstruction.” It is not live action or a distant memory, but a retelling, full of minor modifications and inner dialogue. That being said, I enjoyed Mohlenhoff’s reconstruction of Offred, but felt there could have been more distinction between her actions and her role as a narrator– that is, defining her self between present, past and “the time before.”
While I heard remarks about the length and wordiness of the narration, what else would you expect from a one-woman novel? Again, I am extremely partial to the story, and found it even more relevant today than I did at first reading, but I would recommend this show to most modern & mature audiences, as it can make the dystopian future seem startlingly close.