SALT LAKE CITY — I find it a shame to applaud design if a production is lacking in the script/acting/direction. Thankfully, Salt Lake Acting Company delivers in all categories. I have no guilt in praising the design as what I love the most about SLAC’s production of How to Make a Rope Swing.
The snow is deep outside and shows no signs of letting up. Bo Wells is a custodian at the school and Mick, a former student, works there now as well. As they clear out the desks and chairs before demolition makes room for the new building, former teacher and principle Delores Wright enters. As the snow grows deeper, and they are stranded in the school, buried opinions and secrets from the past fifty years come out.
Glenn Turner (playing Bo Wells) is a charming power on the stage. He balances the bright moments in the script with a profound poignancy. It was incredibly fun to watch him interact with Mick in the opening scenes, discussing baseball and just how black Jackie Robinson was. Pair that with the deeply felt emotions regarding his wife, who passed away fifty years prior in a reportedly accidental death, and Turner creates a character that has real impact in this play.
Jayne Luke (as Delores Wright) shows such control in guiding the audience through the night. We almost hate her in the beginning, simplifying her down to an old racist schoolteacher. Her conviction and sorrow walk in, hand in hand, as she slowly reveals what this play is really about, and what happened to Bo’s wife so many years ago.
Lucas Bybee as Mick is enjoyable overall, despite the delivery oftentimes feeling too calculated and planned, particularly in the opening scene. His performance in Act Two is significantly stronger. With two formidable characters on the stage, Mick is refreshing in his mix of cockiness and gentility.
Director Adrianne Moore embraces the scarred oak tree motif throughout the production. From the actors’ choices to the design, the production is so cohesive. Moore understands why this play works. Yes, the play starts simply, but as she states in her program note, what “unfolds is just so unexpected, and painful and lyrical in its telling.” SLAC’s stage is a beautiful harmony between playwright, director, performer, and designer.
Keven Myrhe‘s scenic design is the jewel of the night. The walls are the color of almost burnt paper. Years of dirt and dust have left outlines on the wall: a map, a fire extinguisher, a disciplinary paddle. The floor is hard wood and wood paneling creeps up the walls to a chair rail. Just below the ceiling hang class photos of years past. All of this frames the black scar of a chalkboard on the upstage wall. The design so perfectly and subtly mirrors Delores Wright’s dream that I was immersed even further into playwright Shawn Fisher’s world. Myrhe should be applauded.
Patient and deliberate, Shawn Fisher’s script is well crafted. His story of racial intolerance and its long-lasting effects on everyone involved is complex and, thankfully, only scratches the surface of these characters. A recipient of the Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award, How to Make a Rope Swing will rightly be flocked to this February.