At first glance, Wonder Woman would appear to have maybe the most ignoble beginnings of any iconic superhero. She was, after all, the creation of a bondage enthusiast and polygamist who rather unsubtly worked his personal fetishes into comic books ostensibly aimed at children. But as Jill Lepore’s hit nonfiction book The Secret History of Wonder Woman and Workhaus Collective’s Lasso of Truth make evident, there was far more going on behind those indestructible Amazonian bracelets than the narrow minds of the 1930s - and perhaps even the 2010s - were equipped to deal with.
There’s a lot riding on the casting of Lasso of Truth’s holy trinity of Wonder Woman creator William Marston and his two spouses (billed here as “The Wife” and “The Amazon”). Fortunately, this production nails it with three actors who create living, compelling characters and who make impressions both on their own and as facets of the Wonder Woman persona. Even if the play wasn’t as good as it is, it would be worth the price of admission just to watch the intriguing physical interplay of Annie Enneking’s slight yet powerful voice of reason, Megan Kreidler’s confidently athletic interloper and Stephen Yoakam’s soft and spritely proto-feminist.
The stark contrast in the leads’ body types reflects the delicate balance of personalities that allows their three-way, bondage-heavy relationship to flourish. Wonder Woman contains multitudes, and the play makes it clear that everyone here needs everyone else, with roles of dominance and compliance shifting as situations dictate. All three actors are in top form, with Enneking making a particularly indelible impression as a fiercely progressive pragmatist who finds her family’s social and sexual experimentation both exhilarating and more than a little frightening. The triad’s interplay both in and out of the bedroom is endlessly fascinating and legitimately sexy. Carson Kreitzer’s script creates a warm, relatable portrait of a non-nuclear family for whom Wonder Woman represented not just a creative outlet nor a cash cow, but a chance to change the world for the better.
Lasso of Truth’s parallel storyline makes it evident that the Marstons’ dreams of cultural enlightenment and female empowerment were at least partially realized. Somewhere in the 1990s, a young woman (McKenna Kelly-Eiding) raised on the 1970s Wonder Woman TV show starring Linda Carter enters a comic shop in search of her heroine’s first appearance. Soon enough, she and the easily abashed shopkeeper (John Riedlinger) are embroiled in a semi-friendly clash over who cherishes Wonder Woman more. There’s a lot to like about this storyline, but there are also moments when the script leans too heavily on exposition and philosophizing. It’s all still very enjoyable and thought-provoking watching the two debate Marston’s motivations and his creation’s impact as both a pop culture keystone and a feminist icon, but the play’s other half is so compelling that the comic shop exchanges can’t help but pale a little in comparison to the Marston material.
Above all, Lasso of Truth is an exploration of the malleability of a superhero with many incarnations, each of which has meant many things to many people. Kreitzer and director Leah Cooper (who, for disclosure’s sake, is a founder of Minnesota Playlist) capture this notion with a constantly shifting, multi-media aesthetic. A moving black screen serves as a living jump-cut, allowing the action to shift seamlessly between the two stories with minimal interruption. Three project screens mounted over the stage periodically come to life, fleshing out the edges of the story in crisp comic book panels by illustrator Jacob Stoltz. There’s a series of animated interstitials about Gloria Steinem (Enneking) debating Wonder Woman’s feminist bona fides with a dubious journalist (Kreidler). And every now and then, the audience is instructed to close its eyes and let offstage bursts of dialogue do the work. Intermingling so many modes of expression could easily come off as showy, pretentious or just plain busy, but here it feels organic, a natural manifestation of the contradictory creation of a complicated creator.
We’re living in what’s arguably the golden age of superheroines, with everyone from the boundary-breaking Ms. Marvel to the lovable Squirrel Girl to the rejuvenated Supergirl earning accolades on the page and screen. Still, there’s only one female superhero who’s remained a household name for the better part of a century - not to mention one popular enough to sell out the Playwrights Center on the first beautiful Sunday afternoon of a Minnesota summer. Lasso of Truth stands as a fitting tribute to one of pop culture’s most enduring heroines, with all of the triumphs, flaws and unorthodox origins that entails.