SALT LAKE CITY — Let’s challenge the thoughts of what our readers think a review on the UTBA ought to look like. I know what you’re really wondering about this show:
- Did I like it? Yes.
- Have a lot of people liked it? Yes.
- Will everyone like it? Nope.
- Is it worth the money? Yep.
- Are there still tickets? A few!
Plan-B’s MESA VERDE is a tight production. Matthew Ivan Bennet‘s 70-minute script has a real sense of discretion on what has made it through each draft on its way to this premiere. The use of space is one generally reserved for comments on direction, but Bennett creates such an intimate focal point for this conversation between two sisters and the weighted memories that inform their actions.
These two sisters are beautiful on the page and incredibly substantive in performance. April Fossen brings such a natural voice and connection to her role as Tabitha. Christy Summerhays plays the adolescent adult Tamara that, while convincing and largely appropriate, briefly skirts with caricature, though the majority of her performances is rooted in realism.
Both of these women have built their realities in very different ways and it’s those individual realities that make it so difficult to understand the other. Fossen and Summerhays performances are perhaps the most revealing and engaging when paired with Teresa Sanderson.
SHORT SYNOPSIS (“BLURB” SCRAPED FROM PLAN-B’S WEBSITE):MESA VERDE explores the relationship between two estranged sisters who come together when one of them falls sick, allowing them to air their feelings about their mother, the way she died, the way she lived and taught them to live. A complex quest for hope and healing, MESA VERDE is about seeing the joy in our broken relationships and releasing the past. A play about facing family.
Intertwined throughout as a supportive web of memory and active commentary is Sanderson’s portrayal of the Goddess—the soul of the earth. She is something of a presenter for the evening, breathing life into the characters, blowing the story back to key moments in the lives of Tabatha and Tamara. She embodies all other characters. What a beautiful device and this role intrinsic to the power of the evening. Placing the Goddess in the roles of the mother, the boyfriend, and the husband brings the focus of the evening, not to the conflicts, but rather the conflicts’ affect on the two sisters.
Cheryl Ann Cluff seems to have an intimate understanding of what is important in this play. I believe that she and Bennett work extremely well together. The set, lighting, and sound fall in sweetly to complement the script. That’s the mark of a director and artistic team who place a great deal of respect to the text.
I’m disappointed that most theatregoers accustomed to the flash and noise of today’s Broadway vehicles won’t make it out to this production. You really should. It’s a soft beauty (and an exploration on that). At the very least, you’ll leave humming Chopin as you make your way home.