CEDAR CITY — The third play in Utah Shakespeare Festival’s (USF) New American Playwrights Projects (NAPP) this season is Adam & Yoshi—a comedy. It is a change of pace, as USF rarely produces comedies as part of their staged readings series. Comedies are very difficult to write and playwright Tom Cavanaugh took it on as a veteran with NAPP. Hailing from Newark, New Jersey, Cavanaugh was previously a finalist in 2010 for his full length play, Behold.

Show closes August 30, 2013.

Show closes August 30, 2013.

Adam & Yoshi has six characters: Adam (Quinn Mattfeld), a 28-year-old young lawyer/aspiring writer studying for the bar exam while living in his parent’s attic; Yoshi (Betsy Mugavero) a peculiar girl in her mid-twenties who works in a coffee/comic book shop; Mom (Siobhan Doherty) and Dad (A. Bryan Humphrey), Adam’s mother and father; Jason (Drew Shirley), Adam’s brother; and Ken (Kipp Moorman), the coffee shop manager.

The plot is nothing new. It is the typical story of a young man’s struggle between his parent’s expectations and his own dreams. However, Cavanaugh tosses in an eccentric girlfriend to the story who dresses as a superhero and pretends she is from another planet. It adds some very entertaining moments as well as an additional plot line in her similar lesson of self-discovery and courage to live outside the mask.

The ideas behind the double plot lines in Adam & Yoshi are universal and each character in the play has the ability to represent anyone. But the play has a long journey ahead of it. Cavanaugh’s dialogue was very natural between the characters for the most part. There were great moments between Adam and his brother, but towards the end he seemed to just “be” there with no reason but to push their father’s words further into Adam’s brain. The actors did a brilliant job breathing additional life and silent explanation to the moments that weren’t fleshed out in the script. For example, it wasn’t clear why Adam and Yoshi were dating and/or in love. Every time they fought it wasn’t clear what their motivation was to stay and what tied them together. Mattfeld and Mugavero had a fantastic chemistry together which sold their relationship, so when nothing was being said it was only because of their acting and the director’s (Aaron Galligan-Stierle) blocking that it was clear that they were in love… just not why.

New American Playwrights Project - Utah Shakespeare Festival, Cedar City, UtahThe script was also very repetitive. Adam and Yoshi fought over his wish for her to take off her mask more than twice and she explained the same reason why each time with no additional information. It was unnecessary and frustrating that this conversation kept happening. The emotions also ran extremely high throughout the play, which made it feel there was a high risk involved. But Adam’s father never threatened to cut him off, and though Adam broke up with her twice it was only for brief moments, and he was always scratching at the door to get back. Cavanaugh may think of increasing the risk/motivation behind these life moments or giving the emotions of the characters more of an arc and less of a constant heat. It is very easy to write conflict but to build something is the challenge, and there is power behind holding back the fire and letting it rise within the characters and not spew out of them.

Yoshi was high energy, fun, and free, and she wanted everyone to live without boundaries. Most of the comedic moments came from her interactions with everyone. It was a bit reminiscent of the old television show Mork & Mindy. However, Cavanaugh’s most beautiful moments in the script were when Yoshi slowed down for a moment and opened up to Kipp, Adam or in solo monologues, but they entirely too short. Just on the brink of discovering who Yoshi was, I was ripped back into her alien world. On the other hand, Cavanaugh did a brilliant job building the world that Yoshi was from. The details and descriptions of Darden, the world just outside of our galaxy, and the rules of their society were clear as day and you seemed to accept her world along with Adam because they were so creative and detailed.

In the end the script though the script has a way to go. But it is so full of potential that it is worth keeping an eye out for future versions of Adam & Yoshi, as Cavanaugh perfects this timeless, quirky, and heartwarming play. It will all depend on if he utilizes the NAPP feedback from the brilliant cast, crew and talkbacks to really take this script where it has potential to grow.

The remaining staged reading of Adam & Yoshi, part of The New American Playwrights Project at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, plays on August 30 at 10 AM in the Auditorium Theatre on the campus of Southern Utah University. Tickets are $10. For more information about this production and other staged readings of plays in progress at this year’s New American Playwrights Project, visit www.bard.org/plays/napp2013.html.