SALT LAKE CITY — The Noose is a piece of historical fiction inspired by an actual 1957 Salt Lake City police case. April, a young African-American resident of Salt Lake, is accused not only of murder, but also of being a lesbian—accusations which seem to be culturally equal in severity. In the plot, designed to make the straight, male policeman appear as the ultimate villain, the female characters get their victory in the form of a homicide via piano wire, complete with a reference to Adolf Hitler.
Early in this original script by playwright Bryan Stubbles, the narrator Sappho expresses a desire for “a theme that moves beyond.” After seeing this production—best described as anti-Utah, anti-police, and anti-male—I found that I harbored a similar desire for a dialogue that could have moved beyond shallow prejudicial platitudes in order to make a deeper statement. Instead of real substance, however, Stubbles fed his characters trite statements, such as the twice-forced comparisons of Salt Lake and Provo to hell.
Given so little to work with, it was no wonder that this production, directed by Arden Smith, presented itself as forced and un-relatable. As April, ‘Makuena Christina’s delivery was difficult to follow. She left long pauses in the middle of her phrases, presumably for thought or effect, but essentially just confusing. Her stance choices were equally awkward, as she pulled her elbows far behind her both when walking or when standing still.
The trick with historical fiction is writing it in such a way that it sounds and feels to the audience as if they have truly been transported to a scene in the past. Unfortunately, nothing about The Noose offered the necessary authenticity. The Utah Theater Kopanang company offered a second production on their ticket, Brine Shrimp Gangsters, which surprisingly presented more believability. This was only a surprise because this was a ten-minute show about three Great Salt Lake brine shrimp engaged in a turf war over Farmington Bay.
In their roles as brine shrimp, Earl Burnett III, Jacom Clarkson, and Abbey Wood were sufficiently committed. As gangsters, however, Burnett didn’t quite achieve the Godfather-like persona he appeared to be seeking, and the chemistry between Clarkson and Wood failed to rise above awkward. Each seemed fully dedicated to the task of squirting each other with freshwater. In the end, that enthusiasm broke the fourth wall as the audience became an intentional splash zone for the remaining watergun ammunition.
I believe Stubbles, who also authored Brine Shrimp Gangsters, paired these two pieces intending to provide an emotional contrast by offering a bit of comedy to follow the intended gravity of The Noose. For me, however, neither landed in its intended niche. Instead of a contrast, this pairing delivered a double-dose of oddity.