OGDEN — Anyone attending a production at the Gallery Theater can look forward to a charming evening. The Gallery Theater is located in the lower level of the Eccles Community Art Center. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the building was originally built as a private residence, and the theater has since been used as a ballroom, a college dormitory, and a dance studio. The tell-tale ballet rails still line the room, and all the theater implements are no-impact, so as to preserve the historic building.
Clarence Socwell, poet and playwright, as well as one of the play’s producers, teaches a playwriting class at the art center, and many of the scripts produced in the Gallery Theater are written by his students. The scripts are all original works, and the cast and crew are local volunteers.
The fourth of writer and director Paul Birbeck’s plays to be performed at the Gallery Theater, Slide Rule is a poignant tragedy disguised as a comedy. It portrays two climactic days in the unraveling of the 11-year marriage of Joan (Michele L. McGarry) and George (Trenton McKay Judson). The only other character in the play is George’s best friend, Rex (Jonathan D. Crittenden).
The two-scene play opens with George, having been chased from his home by a projectile bread maker, taking refuge at Rex’s house. In comedic banter, the bachelor Rex tries to rebuild George into a more confident and relationship savvy husband. Despite all of Rex’s somewhat chauvinistic encouragement, George bemoans his inadequacies. As Rex tells George to show Joan the man he really is inside, George agonizes, “She knows who I am. That’s the problem.” Through my laughter, I couldn’t help but have sympathy for the life-shattered George as he hopelessly tried to understand what had happened to his marriage.
When, six days later, Rex goes to pick up George’s things, Joan shares her side of the story. As Joan rants about how young she was when she got married and about George’s inability to change, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, too. I appreciated that all of the characters were well-rounded, and neither partner was a one dimensional victim or villain. Had it not been for the humor throughout the play, the catastrophe would have been overwhelming. The comedy broke down the drama enough that I could mentally and emotionally digest it.
All of the actors did a great job of portraying the emotions and motivations of their characters. I was most impressed with the complexity of Birbeck’s script and the emotional depth portrayed by each character.
The atmosphere of the entire play was cozy and close. The theater was small enough that microphones didn’t have to be used, and I felt like I really was interposing in their intimate conversations (This feeling was helped when a flower aimed at George hit me instead!). After the play, the cast, crew, and playwright mingled with the audience in a small reception. Everyone involved with the play was personable and willing to share their experiences with the play.
Slide Rule was a delight to attend. The play itself lasted less than an hour but still gave me plenty to think about. From the ambiance of the venue, to the accessibility of the cast and crew, to the contrastingly humorous and complex script, the evening left me wanting more. I would jump at the chance to see another play at the Gallery Theater.
Future events at the Gallery Theater can be found at Ogden4Arts.org.