SALT LAKE CITY — Walking into the Studio Theatre it’s impossible to avoid looking up. A giant tree of hammered-together planks and particle board towers over the stage sheltering audience and actor for the next 90 minutes.
Adam & Steve & The Empty Sea is Plan-B Theatre Company’s latest world premiere. Playwright Matthew Greene follows two friends (one Mormon, the other gay) transitioning from high school to college amidst the tension of California’s Proposition 8. Scenes echo back to their hide-and-seek days as we see a friendship reshaped through the trials of identity and belief to a still familiar, but uniquely and permanently changed form.
Topher Rasmussen and Logan Tarantino, while taking a few minutes to get warmed up, are an impressive duo on the stage. Both are relatively young actors to be carrying a show at Plan-B (one of just five professional theatres in the state). A student at Utah Valley University, Rasmussen’s most recent production at Plan-B was Eric Samuelsen’s Borderlands. Tarantino is a junior in the Actor Training Program at the University of Utah and this marks his first production with Plan-B.
The two performers have been well matched with veteran director Jason Bowcutt. The two young actors listen to each other well. With such an intimate playing space as The Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner downtown there really is no where to hide. An incredible amount of trust needs to be present in the text as well as your fellow actor. Rasmussen and Tarantino aren’t afraid to embrace their roles. There is an immediacy that gives the heavy moments weight (Steve’s revelation of being gay and Adam’s choice to serve a mission), and the lighter moments a clear sense of play (when the script flashes back to their hide-and-seek youth).
Greene’s text seems at times to reach towards the quick and syncopated dialogue of Aaron Sorkin or Amy Sherman-Palladino. It gives the story quite a bit of momentum and helps the audience invest in the relationship and not the get caught up in the plot points. It’s that focus that allows the political/religious themes to remain incredibly balanced. Potential audience members might fear a battle of beliefs between the socially-conscious Plan-B Theatre and its Mormon playwright Greene. The safety, however, lies in the fact that this isn’t the story about a political moment. It’s a story about the relationship between two, complete and honest individuals.
Jesse Portillo‘s lighting design echoes the colors and tones in Phil Lowe‘s subtle and natural costume design. Cheryl Ann Cluff‘s music choices in the preshow (a mix of classics remade by contemporary artists) reinforce that blend of contemporary and nostalgia. Her wind chimes and birds during scene breaks provide a welcome breath—though a few of the scene breaks were admittedly deceptive as audience members wondered if the show was over and it was time to clap. Overall, it was a very cohesive production design led by director Jason Bowcutt.
There are very few tickets remaining in this mostly sold-out world premiere. Plan-B continues to stand as a hallmark for new play development in the state. If you’re looking for an introduction to the company, this is a great show to be your start.