Theater

If This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Didn’t Bum You Out, Kentucky Cantata Will

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Giant color blowups of actors’ headshots line the set’s upstage wall in Kentucky Cantata, a new play by Paul David Young. In their gazes these performers-for-hire convey self-possession and more than a little hopefulness. The casting photos belong to the show’s real-life ensemble, but you can easily imagine one more among them: perhaps a lower-budget version with the fresh face of Carolyn (Hayley Treider), the drama’s young ingénue. Arriving at the airport from her Kentucky home, the young
actress gets into a taxi, ready for a life in show business.
Instead she falls victim to unspeakable crimes that leave her gasping for life behind a Home Depot off the expressway.

This fate is first revealed in a choral prologue and then frequently restated during this 75-minute lamentation. Young sets up a Bonfire of the Vanities–style collision of life experiences in the cruel city; the crime confirms her parents’ worst fears while bringing tragic ruin to the
aggrieved immigrant Kareem (Tony Naumovski). Despite these literary intentions, director Kathy Gail MacGowan’s production comes off stilted and jejune — with oddly wigged musicians shadowing too-transparent characters and an awkwardly integrated “installation” set by Franklin Evans. All the while those soft-lit faces in the photographs stare at us: reminders — as if we needed any more — that aspiration never stops driving this heartless town.