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STRUCK examines the brain and strokes at Cleveland Public Theatre

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)

STRUCK, now on stage as Cleveland Public Theatre is an interesting piece, much in the vein of Arthur Kopit’s WINGS, which had a startling production at Beck Center starring Dorothy Silver, in which the ramifications of a person having a stroke is investigated.

As I tell my psychology students, the brain is a marvelous, but fragile thing.  It is the intellectual center of our very being.   It is constantly in the process of changing, through a process known as coring.   This is what accounts for teenagers seemingly out of the realm of reality, as they respond, “I don’t know,” when asked why they did something.  In reality, as their mind destructs and rebuilds, they aren’t in logical control.  The mind also has neuroplasticity.  It may be able to be remolded, be retrained.  This ability allows individuals who often learn to write with their right hands, if they are a lefty and the limb is injured, to make the adjustment, or to learn again after amnesia hits.

What happens when a person has a stroke?  The incredibly complex ensemble known as the brain goes haywire.   Thought processes, which happen daily as we think and speak, get interrupted.  Normal tasks such as remembering what has happened in the past, thinking in the present, or projecting into the future become difficult, if not impossible.  What happened?  What is happening?

STRUCK is the tale of Tannis Kowalchuk who, in 2011, suffered a stroke.  Since then, she has been on the road to recovery, which has led her on a search to discover not only what caused the physical problem, but what it means to be human.  The play leads us into her own mind and its attempts at recovery.

The story is not told in a sequential format.  There is no beginning, middle and end, per se.  We are not privy to her recovery, though we are participants in her journey into the world of stroke patient.

As often happens with devised theatre, text, lighting, video, sound and digital effects blend to make the whole.  It is more presentation than focused story telling.  The runway stage, with the audience on both sides of the action, is a whirr of curtains, projected visual images, sounds, flashing lights, and the words of the actors.

STRUCK, a 70-minute, intermissionless, world premiere, coproduction of CPT and the National Cultural Laboratory, is well conceived and performed, though it is more affect then effect.  The video/sound/photography of Dana Duke and Big Twig Studio and the work of video/digital artists Brian Calazza and Brett Keyser, help develop Kowalchuk’s angst, as does Stephen Arnold’s lighting.

Brett Keyser, who CPT regulars know from his performances in DARWINII:  THE COMEUPANCE OF MAN, OPEN MIND FIRMAMENT, and BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION:  A TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD, is his usual adept self.  TANIS KOWALCHUK is his equal as the stroke victim.

Side note:  There has been WATER WAYS, then EARTH, then NICK AND JEREMY and now, STRUCK.   Cleveland Public Theatre seems obsessed with devised theatre,  productions which have no playwright, but are conceived by the performers and other theatre staff.  There is nothing wrong with devised theatre, and there is surely nothing wrong with STRUCK, but four such shows in a row seems a bit much for a single theatre, in a single season.

Capsule judgement: STRUCK is an interesting piece of devised theatre, that clearly illustrates the angst of a stroke on a human and the fragility of the human mind 

STRUCK runs through April 6  at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to