“You can’t be charged for being something, only for doing something.” And thus spins the carousel known as The 20th Century Way, a two-person play running audiences in circles of “morality” at convergence-continuum now through December 18, 2021.
Directed by Clyde Simon, the 90-minute, no intermission show is based on the true story of two actors who hired themselves out to the Long Beach Police Department in 1914 to entrap “social vagrants” in public restrooms. Thirty-one men were arrested, and the ensuing scandal led to an ordinance against “oral sodomy” in California.
Written by Tom Jacobson, The 20th Century Way plays out the escapades of these two Califonia vice specialists as they infiltrate bathhouses, public restrooms, and other places in order to entrap men into exposing themselves. Fines, jail time, and public humiliation await all who are taken in by these actors, who had gained the suspects’ trust before exposing them.
How does the story begin? Set in Long Beach, CA in 1914, we meet Brown (Keith Kornajcik) and Warren (Michael Prosen) as they wait for an “audition.” The two are rivals for a part and they go about challenging one another about historical dates and facts, acting techniques, and all other manner of bluster in hopes of throwing each other off their games.
Then the audition waiting room eventually morphs into many places, as the men make a wager about beating one another in a game of “improv.” Suppositions and what-ifs play out with the change of hats, coats, and more. The conversation in the waiting room is suddenly melded into scenes in a police station, a park, a private establishment called the 96 Club, a courtroom, and other places. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand if Warren and Brown are the actors in the audition room, or if they’re the “Special Vice Officers” undercover in the field. Time and place seem to intertwine as a myriad of characters are introduced in this play-within-a-play format.
Many questions arise regarding the detectives’ activities. While successfully navigating a whole host of accents and costume pieces, Warren and Brown wrestle philosophically and emotionally with each other and with themselves. “Who are we? Soulless imitators… the roles we play?”
Brown is especially torn with the conundrum of turning on someone with whom he’s become close. He feels immense guilt about befriending a man under false pretenses and struggles with who he is as a human for his part in the takedowns. “What good is the truth if it’s not real?”
There’s also the question of one’s own privacy. It’s explained early on that the zipper was a brand new “technological wonder” of the time period. This new convenience added to men’s trousers (taking the place of buttons), along with the improvement of general personal cleanliness made it easier for male “social vagrants” to commit sexual acts on one another. The piece delves into what society deems as right and wrong, as well as how far the law can go to monitor personal behavior. What about civil rights and privacy? What about entrapment? What about professional ethics?
The play has a serious topic, but many moments of levity as well. As the actors weave through the material, the audience can’t do anything but try to follow the sometimes confusing pace and transitions with fascination. Kornajcik seems to have the best handle on the wordy material as he and Prosen navigate the voluble piece, and each actor brings his own energy to the story. By the time the performance reaches the end, the final twist is just another moment that makes this multi-layered thinker more provocative.
The 20th Century Way runs Thu-Sat at 8 p.m. now through December 18,2021. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 seniors (65+), $15 students. All performances are held at the Liminis Theater located at 2438 Scranton Rd. Cleveland 44113 in the Historic Tremont neighborhood.
HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS
Masks are required for entrance, and all patrons must adhere to our Health and Safety guidelines.
To attend a performance, all ticket holders must have the following:
- Physical vaccination card or a photo of the card on a mobile device OR proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test.
- Valid photo ID (ticket holders under age 18 may provide a school photo ID or an official school document with the student’s name)
- Mask that securely covers the nose and mouth (no bandanas or neck gaiters)
- Valid convergence-continuum ticket