SALT LAKE CITY — The Lab | Script-in-Hand Series is a fairly new laboratory for original work by Utah playwrights. The lab is led by Tobin Atkinson (Meat & Potato Theatre) and supported by Jerry Rapier (Plan-B Theatre). This week brought the second installment of the series. Three 30-minute, one-act plays-in-progress were presented and followed by a conversation between artists and audience.
Seven Days to Change Your Life
- written by Megan Crivello | directed by Bud Perry
- featuring Tracie Merrill, Daniel Beecher and Colleen Baum
STORYLINE: Lauren (Merrill) faces a pregnancy scare after an evening with her long-time “fun” buddy Andrew. Bosom buddy Sophie, who is egg-timing her way toward conceiving, provides immediate support be it delivery of the morning after pill, reminders to get tested (STD and pregnancy), and the honest/comedic/sincere ear that she needs. The play ends with Lauren sharing her decision to not move forward with the pregnancy (be it real or not…that information hasn’t been discovered yet) to ready-to-step-up Andrew.
REACTION to the SCRIPT: I don’t think this is a story about pregnancy scares, abortion, or any of the surface issues presented. We’re presented with two individuals (Lauren and Andrew) who have never thought anything more than sex ought to be brought to their relationship. They knew that’s all there was ever going to be. Conversation from Andrew was always filled with very shallow innuendo.
Compare that to the relationship between Lauren and Sophie. Theirs is a friendship fully fleshed out. Intentions and goals are shared and clear. Their conversations focused on the present and there is a whole lot of meat to the peppered descriptions from Sophie’s side of the telephone. COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.
The grand majority of this play is spent developing Sophie and Lauren’s relationship, or rather is spent presenting how developed that relationship is. By the end of it I knew so much about Sophie that I felt a little cheated as to how little was revealed about Andrew and his thought processes during these last few days since the…incident. I wondered if this was the great shortcoming of the playwright: she can write females but the male psyche deludes her!
That wasn’t it, though. Going into that last scene completely innocent as to Andrew’s thoughts and intentions heightened the surprise when he was ready to step up and established the tragedy when Lauren’s decision to not move forward with the pregnancy.
Now careful, the tragedy of the play is not the potential of an abortion. The tragedy lies in Lauren never knowing Andrew enough to even think that fatherhood would be a possibility. The tragedy results in two individuals having no ability to connect in the present because of their assumed understanding of the future.
I feel this script worked really well as a staged reading. I’m uncertain to its possibilities as a longer work. Certainly there is meat underneath the highly comedic writing, but it still feels a little jokey. There is wit there. I about fell off my chair when Lauren hesitates to taking the morning after pill because she is wary about what she puts in her body, and Sophie’s mono-syllabic response in a later telephone conversation is a refreshing change up from her standardly elaborate adjectives. Still, there’s meat in this show and what’s more, the characters are very real and approachable.
REACTION to the PERFORMANCE: I feel a good deal of how successful the reading was goes deservedly to the director Bud Perry. Minor blocking really used the limits of a traditional reading as best I can imagine. The actors were solid and represented the piece well. That’s really all you can ask for when the focus of the evening is driven towards the text itself.
Between the Hour
- written by Deborah DeVos | directed by Mark Fossen
- featuring Colleen Baum and Jason Tatum
STORYLINE: Jalena (Baum) is warned by fellow Russian journalist Mikael (Tatum) that there is a hit out on her life for her continued diligence to report the truth and not what the government wishes to be represented.
REACTION to the SCRIPT: As a 25-minute play this piece did not work for me. I found myself having to give myself a pep talk to stay focused through the first 15 minutes. Details regarding the characters and plot were carefully withheld from me and let loose at chosen moments. It increased the mystery and my interest to follow along, but the stakes for each character remained so very low until we neared minute 23 and Mikael revealed that there was a hit out on Jalena. Only at that moment was I suddenly invested in these characters and their situation. That investiture took entirely too long to occur for me. Had I not been determined to write a review later on I surely would have mentally checked out of the performance.
The story itself is increasingly interesting as I learn how contract killings on journalists in Moscow have become so common. It’s a scary and disturbing story that I’m grateful to have introduced to me. I really feel DeVos has touched on a story that has to be told.
In the post-show discussion with the playwright it was revealed that what we saw was a 25-minute cutting of a 90 minute script. I think that had a huge bearing on how poorly this show worked for me in this one-act, staged reading setting. However, I don’t feel that the low stakes were entirely the fault of the playwright.
REACTION to the PERFORMANCE: I feel the actors represented the script well. The fault with the performance, I feel, lies primarily in the hands of the director. Unlike the theatre patrons, Fossen was completely aware of the manner in which details were revealed to the audience. He certainly knew the importance of that moment of revelation regarding the hit on Jalena. The lack of subtext and immediacy in the production yes falls on the script, but in the end it’s the responsibility of the director to make a production tangible to the audience. I didn’t care for either of these characters until the last two minutes. I lament that.
- written by Jennifer Nii | directed by Jason Bowcutt
- featuring Colleen Baum, Daniel Beecher, Tracie Merrill and Jason Tatum
STORYLINE: Kicker (Beecher) has stumbled upon a story of headline hypocrisy. Lisbeth (Baum), a big wig at Veritas Corporation has always been an incredible supporter of traditional marriage on behalf of her company. She leads the rally to preserving the traditional family unit. Kicker however has discovered that Lisbeth in her private life is in a committed lesbian relationship. What follows is a struggle of should or shouldn’t the story be leaked to the public and the anticipated fallout from that decision.
REACTION to the SCRIPT: I don’t trust the intentions of Kicker. He doesn’t feel like the journalist living for truth as presented in BETWEEN THE HOUR. I feel like he, as a reporter, has been looking for the right person to represent a message he’s been dying to share but that he lacks the balls to do it himself. It’s easier to quote someone.
This lack of trust on my part really steers the play away from being about the public/private persona being put on trial. I think that’s originally where Nii intended to take the story, sadly I myself was derailed from that intended direction to the intentions of Kicker.
Right now the play feels like it has these two competing stories, though I think they could prove very tight foils to one another providing more development. At least, that’s where the play is wanting to go from my perspective. That’s not my decision however. Nii provides well developed characters and professional protocols feel spot on. Having enjoyed Nii’s recent contribution to Wallace I’m excited to see how this piece develops in the future.
REACTIONS to the PERFORMANCE: No great praises or complaints. The script was well represented by actor and director.
REACTIONS to THE LAB
I’m very excited for THE LAB. It was one of the more enjoyable evenings at the theatre I’ve experienced lately. It’s always a pleasure to be exposed to new works in development and to be able to discuss the piece with patrons and professionals in the heart of Salt Lake City. It’s a gamble seeing a new show. THE LAB is a phenomenal opportunity to take a brief chance on new work. The next Script-in-Hand Series will take place on June 2nd in the Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner Center for the Arts. Visit PlanBTheatre.org/lab for details.