Synchronicity Theatre opens its new home with a new play, Lasso of Truth. Though it was founded back in 1997, the company previously produced its five-play seasons at other Atlanta venues including 7 Stages and 14th Street Playhouse. After the purchase of 14th Street Playhouse by Savannah College of Art and Design in early 2014, Synchronicity was left looking for a home and eventually found it at the former Ansley Park Playhouse (where the popular comedy Peachtree Battle became Atlanta’s longest-running play).
The new space is slick and intimate; Synchronicity has assembled a fine cast for Lasso; and the subject of the play itself — the creation of the world’s first leading female comic book superhero — is seemingly a winner with broad appeal. Unfortunately, though the elements are all in place, they somehow don’t coalesce into an effective show.
Lasso of Truth, a rolling world premiere with Marin Theatre Company in California and Unicorn Theatre in Missouri, tells several stories. There’s the story of Wonder Woman’s real-life creator, William Moulton Marston (Kevin Stillwell), an idiosyncratic psychologist and inventor who helped popularize the DISC theory of human behavior and sought to commercialize early polygraph machines; and there’s the story of his unusual home life (Marston lived with two women in an apparently happy and years-long menage à trois).
Interspersed are scenes of the present day as an obsessed female comic fan (a funny, accessible, but appealingly tough and spiky Christen Orr) seeks out a copy of the outrageously rare comic book in which Wonder Woman made her first appearance. There are also videotaped scenes of a Gloria Steinem character in the 1970s, who considers the feminist legacy of Wonder Woman and contemplates putting her image on the first issue of Ms. magazine.
In the play, much is made of Marston’s unusual marital and romantic arrangement, but part of the problem of turning such private elements of a real person’s biography into drama is that not enough is known about such relationships to turn them from something general (isn’t that strange?) into something specific (this is how it was).
Though playwright Carson Kreitzer does try to imagine some of the particulars, things stay strangely and uncompellingly generalized. Adding to the problem is that early scenes in the play are performed in an exaggeratedly campy comic-book-noir style. We’re placed at an ironic remove from all of the characters, and later it’s almost impossible to feel close to them or see them as real people with real problems. They’re unreal and figurative, and it’s difficult to move from there to a place of real emotion and interest.
Though the play tells several potentially compelling stories, it actually glosses over its most interesting one — the fictional comic book story about the origin of Wonder Woman’s powers, which would have been a resonant and culminating one to include as dramatic action interspersed with the other tales.
The play also assumes that the creation and popularity of Wonder Woman are of genuine historic significance, particularly to the feminist movement. It assumes Marston’s romantic arrangements are also of interest, and it assumes his fascination with bondage (a fetish that more than occasionally showed up in the early comic book stories) is interesting and revealing. They’re not terribly controversial or contentious assertions, I suppose, but I didn’t leave convinced of any of them.
It seems like it would be hard to go wrong with a play about the bizzare story behind one of the 20th century’s most familiar superhero icons, but somehow Lasso of Truth never quite comes together as entertaining or as provocative as it should be.