SALT LAKE CITY — With You by Max Huftalin is an expertly written and directed play produced by Company of Cohorts. The production is definitely a favorite of this year’s Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival, as I could barely find a seat in the crowded theater.
The beginning of the play reminded me of Shakespeare‘s Much Ado About Nothing, with two groups of friends trying to get their “frenemies,” Alex (played by Tristan Johnson) and Gwen (played by Suni Gigliotti), to hook up. As that trick works quickly enough, the rest of the plot brings about a resolution between hurt sisters, Hailee (played by Michelle Thompson) and Sophie (played by Carlie Young), brought together by Hailee’s fiance, Charlie (played by Ali Lente), and the new blossoming relationship of Jean (played by Amy Ware) and Nick (played by Max Huftalin).
These actors’ performances were nonstop fun. Everyone had great focus and emotion, but most of all there was power in their body language to show how strong or weak their characters were each moment. This provided some fantastic energy among characters. For example, there was a scene between the sisters as their issue came to the forefront, and I could see Young switching her weight from side to side as she defended her past behavior. Compared to Thompson’s balanced, unwavering stance, it was clear who felt more pain and anger from the encounter.
Huftalin is a fantastic writer whose style is reminiscent of Neil Simon‘s. With You was so well put together that I wondered if it had been produced professionally yet. Director Shianne Grey (who also manages the entire fringe festival) created so many beautiful and hilarious moments in this show.
I haven’t enjoyed a better written show for a long time. With You introduced the characters and the conflict clearly and kept the hilarious character interactions without getting too unbelievable. The plot provided powerful and deep moments that touched my heart. The ending was wrapped up to provide a new way to look at life and all loose ends tied. Not many plays or movies can do that for me. I hope that more audiences can see With You in the future.