SALT LAKE CITY — The play is good. You should attend. Not a lot of tickets left.
Pilot Program, a play about a modern Mormon couple called to participate in polygamy, plays at Plan-B Theatre Company through Sunday. You’d do well to see it.
The script succeeds as the story of Abigail Houston (played by April Fossen), a devout Mormon woman willingly exploring her faith through a plural marriage with her husband, Jacob (Mark Fossen), and former university student, Heather (Susanna Florence Risser).
Playwright Melissa Leilani Larson is no stranger to the awkward task of exploring faith in her plays through uncomfortable premises. Audiences may remember Little Happy Secrets, which introduced us to Claire, a faithful Mormon girl falling in love with her best friend Brennan. It was a difficult sell to both the Mormon and gay community; but once they got into the theatre, things changed. Larson accomplishes the same in Pilot Program, too. Regardless of your feelings on polygamy or Mormons, you’re going to like this show.
Maybe polygamy’s not your thing. (Just between us, it’s not Larson’s thing either.)
This play? It’s your thing. Trust me.
You’re going to like Abby. And Jacob. And Heather. That’s the key.
Each of the actors is a pillar in this production. April Fossen as Abby brings a depth of thought in each crafted monologue that has me aching when she’s in pain, and smiling softly when she isn’t. Mark Fossen’s Jacob is a bit peculiar at first—void of any real struggle before the wedding night (though his silent monologue in the first three minutes says volumes)—as he accepts the call with a scoop of responsibility and teaspoon of curiosity for what this new calling might mean. Risser’s performance as Heather is natural and purposed. Her spiritual confession pulled my heart to my sleeve, and her scolding words in the end left it torn.
I can almost imagine Larson sitting on her couch interviewing each of these characters. Learning their quirks, likes, tastes, pet peeves, and mannerisms. She helps us scoot past the idea that we’re watching a play about Mormons. Instead we’re watching a play about people who happen to be Mormon. Same thing with polygamy. We’re not watching a play about polygamists; it’s a play about people who happen to be practicing polygamy.
If I wanted anything more from this script, it would be a stronger understanding of Jacob’s struggle. Right now the story is Abby’s. I could easily see this expanding and giving equal weight to Jacob and Heather’s arcs, but… that would be a different play.
Jerry Rapier’s direction is seamless and the shape of the story is perfect. The vision for the production is clear in performance and design. Jesse Portillo’s lighting design is beautiful, with lamps dotting upwards that provide a slight reprieve to the weighty drama onstage. Cheryl Ann Cluff’s sound design gives versatility to the living room, taking us out into the night air, and providing a clear doorway for the big reveal in the final scenes. Every element is speaking the same story, and that is the mark of clear direction.
Even with all these production elements coming together, in the end the characters—the people—are the focus of the story. That’s actually what attracts me to a lot of Plan-B’s work. They focus on telling good stories and helping us see things from a new perspective. Melissa Leilani Larson is a good fit for them. She’s got a lot of it. Perspective, that is.
The show closes Sunday. Very few tickets remain. Again, you’d do well to see it (or read it).