The play “Lasso of Truth” by Carson Kreitzer, which is now playing at Towson University Department of Theatre Arts under the direction of Steven J. Satta, dives into the origins of female superhero Wonder Woman, purporting to suss out the truth behind her creator William Moulton Marston, his unconventional romantic relationships, and his ties to the feminist movement of the early 20th Century.
[The] dynamic use [of scenic projections] was a lovely nod to the fast-paced way that one reads a comic, with the boxes of images and text popping out from one frame to the next.
Along the way, the play explores what Wonder Woman meant to Marston and to the women in his life, what she meant to feminist icon Gloria Steinem, what she means to a 90’s woman who grew up watching Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman television show in the 1970’s, and what Wonder Woman means to a man of the same era. Wonder Woman’s symbolism is made all the more complex by Marston’s personal lifestyle which included polyamory and a bondage fetish, the bondage imagery in particular which made its way time and again into the early Wonder Woman comics.
In the program notes, Dramaturg Kalene Chmura references the very detailed book by Jill Lepore entitled “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” which dives into the intricacies of Marston’s life and lies with a fine-toothed detail supported by historical documents, photos, and evidence. I assume that playwright Carson Kreitzer must have at least referenced this seminal work on the origins of Wonder Woman before writing his play – but I must confess that having read Lepore’s work myself, I am somewhat befuddled by Kreitzer’s interpretation of the material it contains.
Granted that it is difficult to translate the facts of history into a meaningful dramatic work, but it is curious to me that Kreitzer’s play presents itself as an examination of the “truth” of Wonder Woman’s origins and indeed, an examination of truth itself, only to have grossly misrepresented the realities of Marston’s romances, condensing two real life women into a mashup entitled “The Amazon,” and changing the inherent relationship dynamics among the participants in a way that promotes the playwright’s agenda rather than wrestling with perhaps more difficult truths to swallow.
All of that being said, the cast shone in this outstanding performance of a work of questionable historical integrity. Especially outstanding were Kendra Hyater-Davis as The Girl (the 90’s woman) and Grace Sciannella as The Amazon (Lily, the mashup of real life women.) I enjoyed Hyater-Davis’s fiery love for Wonder Woman and her equally passionate determination to obtain the comic issue of her dreams. Sciannella gave a sultry performance that brought out the power, rather than weakness, of submission, which was a major theme of the play.
Willem Rogers gave an enthusiastic performance as The Inventor (Marston) who earnestly tried so hard at whatever he did – his lie detector machine, his love life, and his comics. Nick Zuelsdorf as The Guy did a wonderful job bringing out what Wonder Woman meant to him – reminding us that Wonder Woman is not just for women. She is for everyone.
Cherelle Matthews as The Wife showed a quiet strength that clearly ruled her marriage (although, as I stated, this was a skewed perspective of reality.) Jillian Mullin gave us a wonderfully done Gloria Steinem, and Max Ramsay performed off-stage voiceovers with aplomb, especially as The Voice of the Master that first cuffs the Amazon.
I especially enjoyed the scenic projections designed by Jacob Stoltz, which appeared on a series of large screens behind the stage throughout the show. Their dynamic use was a lovely nod to the fast-paced way that one reads a comic, with the boxes of images and text popping out from one frame to the next. And, the text projected on the screens offered a clever narration on the play’s action. The Sound Design by Devin Carroll included a bevy of nostalgic superhero themes played before the show and during intermission.
The opening night performance on March 5, 2020, featured a talkback with the cast and crew after the show which included a very informative discussion by director Steven J. Satta and Intimacy Choreographer Teresa Spencer on the nature of consent in sensual choreography and the importance of non-sexualized physical directions for the actors performing those scenes, even more so in the wake of #MeToo.
I recommend “Lasso of Truth” directed by Steven J. Satta at Towson University Department of Theatre Arts as an extremely well-done production of a play that explores the nature of truth and lies in relationships and our heroes. Perhaps it’s an appropriately ironic commentary on truth that this Carson Kreitzer play is composed mostly of historical half-truths and lies and leaves the audience walking away deceived. But the historical distortions don’t diminish the power of Wonder Woman herself, and whether you’re a fan of hers going into the play or not, you will undoubtedly leave itching to explore the multitude of media interpretations of this empowering feminist icon of beauty, strength, and love.
Advisory: Sexual themes. Mature audiences only.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
“Lasso of Truth” by Towson University Department of Theatre Arts runs through March 12, 2020. For more information, click here.
Please be aware that the parking situation on campus was quite complicated. Most visitor spaces in lots and garages seemed to only be available after 8 p.m. and the show began at 7:30. There was quite limited street parking that was already full on the night I attended. Allow extra time to find parking and to walk to the Studio Theatre, located inside the Center for the Arts building.