OREM — The Hit, currently playing at the Hale Center Theatre in Orem was a delightful little comedy with a wonderfully absurd plot. The play, written by Mike Buckley, was well acted, well directed, and a treat to watch.
The story centers around a brother and sister who run a small antiques shop. Susan (Angie Ottosen-Staheli) and her younger brother Steve (Eric Phillips) took over the cluttered shop after their mother died from cancer. Now Susan has been given a similar diagnosis but hasn’t told anyone. She has decided that rather than suffering and putting her brother through the pain again, she will hire a hit man (Adrienne Eror Hardman) to put a quick end to things. Things start to get a little crazy, however, when Susan meets, and starts falling for, the adorable Sam Gunderson (David St. Julien). Sam is a widower who is just getting back to the dating scene, if a bit awkwardly, but still seems to be the perfect match for Susan, except that she still has a hit coming. And that’s just the start of the antics.
This play is somewhat of an anomaly. I think that overall I would have to classify it as a dark comedy, as its subject matter is rather morbid. But at the same time it’s also light-hearted and romantic. There’s also a vast array of characters (played by two actors: Elizabeth Dabczynski-Bean and Levi Larsen) that are included just to highlight some of the zanier people you might meet at an antiques shop (like the Minnesota mom or the silent-touch-everything type). There’s also some action and everything is topped off with a message of living life to the fullest.
With all of these different factors playing into the script, one might expect the show to be a little disjointed, but the actors did a marvelous job keeping it unified. Much of the credit for that should also be given to the director, Christopher Clark. The actors, specifically Ottosen-Staheli and Hardman, handled some of the more difficult scenes extremely well, especially those times that called for a switch from zany to serious in just a few lines. For Ottosen-Staheli this meant going from somewhat frazzled, to love-stricken, to angry, to despaired. For Hardman, this meant going from the absent-minded, somewhat klutzy would-be hit man, to concerned friend, to love-stricken, to responsible adult. It was great to see the arcs that developed in these characters and the ability the actors had to quickly, and believably, switch from one style to the next.
The romances in the play were cute and fun, and yet there was also a level of honesty that also helped draw in the audience. As a matter of fact, there were a number of relationships that were really enjoyable to watch. I loved the connection between Slavo (Josh Curtis), the Slavic boss of the hit man (who also happens to be his niece) and his interpreter Siposh (Levi Larsen). It’s a fairly classic device with the humor coming out of the need for the translator, but Larsen and Curtis were so in sync that the humor of the situation was greatly magnified. And of course there were the numerous characters of Elizabeth Dabczynski-Bean and Levi Larsen, all of whom had their own little quirks and were great to watch.
As with any show, there are good things and there are not so good things. However, with this show my “not so good” things are actually just more confusion than anything. To begin with, there is an element of music to the show. It doesn’t seem like something that is in the script, but the actors would come out between each scene change an play little ditties on the trombone, trumpet, ukulele, etc. I think my confusion stems from the purpose of the music. I would think that it is to help the scenes transition, but there really wasn’t any set changing that was done other than a prop here or there. Thinking back on the few other Christopher Clark shows that I’ve seen I seem to recall most of them included a form of cast-driven music, and so I’m wondering if it’s just an artistic choice that he likes to make. Again, I’m not saying that it’s bad, I’m just trying to figure out its place.
My other confusion was with one of the characters played by Levi Larsen, Swishy. Swishy is one of the patrons of the store and has his own little quirks. For all intents and purposes, Swishy is written to be the stereotypical gay man. The costuming seemed to support this, with Swishy wearing an ascot-like neck scarf, a fashionably mismatched suit, and a tiny purse-like backpack. However, Swishy was played with a Southern accent, completely sans-lisp or other stereotype. So I’m just wondering if it was a deliberate choice to avoid the gay stereotype because of the potential hot-button politics or some similar reason. Again, not a bad thing, but it did give me pause.
So, should you go see The Hit? Yes. It’s funny, it’s dark, it’s light-hearted, it’s a little bit of everything, but most of all, it’s well done. Don’t go expecting to laugh at every single line; it’s not designed to be that kind of play. But it has lots of really great moments and wonderful characters and in the end you’re invested in the future of each character. Get to the Hale and see this before it closes in August and maybe after the show go out and grab a Big Gulp.