SALT LAKE CITY — Spark opens on the porch of the Glimord home in the tobacco belt of North Carolina. Sisters Evelyn and Ali Glimord are preparing a celebratory dinner to welcome their sister, Lexie, home from a military tour of duty in the Middle East.
Caridad Svich’s script follows the three Glimord sisters who were orphaned just as the oldest, Evelyn, graduated high school. Rather than leaving for college, Evelyn found a job to support her younger sisters. When she was old enough, Lexie joined the military and sent as much money home as she could. The youngest sister, Ali, has just graduated from high school and has been resisting finding a job in the hopes of instead earning money as a professional boxer.
Costume designer Teresa Sanderson has given each actor a wardrobe to reflect her character’s outlook. As Evelyn, Stephanie Howell wears a simple work dress that reflects her character’s austerity. Ariana Farber plays Lexie first in uniform, and then in workout clothes similar to those worn by Anne Louise Brings as Ali, the aspiring boxer who spends her days working out at the school yard.
It was easy to sense the love the sisters had for each other and their lost parents, even as they scolded and reprimanded one another. Still, while each actress seemed talented in her own right, under Fran Pruyn‘s direction the constant tension between sisters often felt unnatural. The level of intensity of each of the sisters’ dialogue was at the height I’d expect in a play’s climax. Yet, from the very beginning, most lines were uttered with such import and passion that they felt out of the ordinary. I found the uninterrupted heightened emotion exhausting to the point of making it difficult to emotionally invest in the characters. It was like reading a book where every word is in bold: Bolding one or two words provides emphasis; but if everything is bold, nothing sticks out from anything else.
JayC Stoddard’s Hector Johnson was easily the most accessible and human feeling of the characters. Stoddard played Evelyn’s suitor with an easily amiability that made him a breath of fresh air in the midst of the willful contention of the Glimord family. Still, Hector’s and Evelyn’s relationship lacked chemistry, largely because Stoddard’s character was so pleasant it was hard to see why he would have any interest in the self-righteous Evelyn.
Andrew Maizner played the character Vaughn with a candor that made me want to hear everything he had to say. That is, until it became apparent that each of his lines was going to be treated as a profound gem of wisdom. While at first he seemed human, Maizner’s dialogue was delivered with the same kind of constant emphasis that ultimately made him seem more like a traveling wise man than an actual person.
The simple set evoked imagery of tobacco road. Three painted panels, one portraying a steepled white church, and two with forest greenery surrounded the stage (scenic design by Thomas George). The stage itself was set with several chairs and a table that actors moved between scenes to signify different places in and surrounding the Glimord home. The sound (Mikal Troy Klee) and lighting (Jesse Portillo) were similarly flawless and evoked the appropriate mood and time of day for each scene.
Because Pygmalion Theatre Company‘ s production of Spark started out so consistently intense, the conclusion of the play felt anticlimactic. Almost every scene ended with one character alone on stage, looking into the audience and singing a meaningful song or delivering a monologue in a manner that was unnatural enough as push me back outside the story and to separate the play from reality. In the end, though, the play portrayed valuable lessons about what burdens we share as families and what we must carry on our own.