Theater: Ritual and Realism

From moonlit skirmishes between pioneers and Cherokee to daylight thievery by speculators and tame judges, from Civil War marauders to union-busting goon squads, from the last gasp of industrial fever to the fresh air of environmentalism -- Robert Schenkkan's THE KENTUCKY CYCLE, playing at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, aspires to no less than a history of the U.S., spanning two centuries in seven hours. If his view of the past is cruel, his factual grounding is solid. But what makes the work so hauntingly memorable is a poetic impulse, not a prosaic one. He confines the action to...

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