SALT LAKE CITY — Arriving at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, I was directed down a long hallway into a small room with black walls and just a few rows of chairs: the location where the Plan-B Theatre Company, directed by Jerry Rapier, would perform.
Designed by Cara Pomeroy and Harris Smith, the set had gray walls and panels accented by a white door frame with an island counter situated in the middle of it all, giving the stage a clean, minimalist feel. As the night was to be filled with four separate and relatively short performances, the set design was brilliant, allowing the actors and crew to easily remove and add small details to the panels and island that transformed the space into something new. Accentuated with stark shadows on occasion by lighting designer Megan McCormick (with assistance from Emma Belnap), the visual presentation emphasized the messages each show attempted to depict for the audience.
The set design was perhaps the most redeeming aspect of the evening. Though the performances presented important and consequential societal themes, the vulgarity and absurdity lain within the scripts and details of each short play convoluted these messages almost entirely.
The first of these productions was set at a radio station a few years into the future. Written by Iris Salazar, this satirical performance went from slightly humorous to asinine and dramatic. The radio show was hosted by DJ KC Masters, played by Carlos Nobleza Posas, who sported an indecent and tasteless t-shirt with the text, “F*** YOUR SAFE SPACE,” written across the front. This shirt was the poorest wardrobe choice made by costume designer La Beene. Though the shirt may be fitting of Posas’s character, the aggressive and in-your-face usage of profanities, not the least of which was the shirt, distracted from the pertinent message of anti-discrimination.
Posas welcomed Yolanda Stange to the stage, playing the lucky radio show guest Jane Jones. Stange was the most talented actress of the evening. Stange excelled in her role portraying an upper-class, overtly-pious Christian and white supremacist, African-American individual. The inflections in her voice and ability to change her demeanor instantly was phenomenal; however, due to Salazar’s outlandish script, she did end the scene with vulgarity and grotesque violence. The script had Jane Jones randomly pull a gun out of her purse and shoot two of the other actors, making the story difficult to believe and feel insincere.
This short story also includes the, “royal POTUS,” or Brien Keith hilariously mocking President Donald Trump. This characterization was made obvious by Beene’s costume design, giving Keith a tucked-in polo, a “Make America Great Again,” red baseball cap, and his cell phone, always ready to write a Tweet. To make the performance even more preposterous, Jillian Joy appeared seemingly out of nowhere as a young Mexican mother in handcuffs. The mother only spoke Spanish, pleading for help to find her children. There was no realistic reason for her being there; if she was arrested (as the handcuffs implied), she would have been in prison, not on a radio talk show. The whole situation was confusing and lackluster, with no real resolution.
THE FRAILEST THING
Though absurdism has long been out of style, this short, absurdist play written by playwright Bijan Hosseini was my favorite of the evening. Bryan Kido was the only actor who appeared on stage, playing the role of a young Vietnamese soldier during the 70’s. Kido’s ability to memorize such a lengthy monologue was impressive, though he was emotionless for the first half of the performance. This made understanding the story he was trying to tell extremely difficult.
A motionless, stuffed puppet was placed on the center of the island counter and that Kido creepily spoke to during certain portions of his monologue; I still have no idea what that prop was supposed to represent. The entire monologue—questioning life and reality and all that is good or bad—was written as a sort of chiasmus, wherein Kido ended the same way he began. The rhetorical choice was highlighted by the blocking and costume choice, i.e. having Kido dress and then undress through the course of the performance, beginning and ending in his underwear.
DRIVERS LICENSE, PLEASE
This play, written by Olivia Custodio, was reckless. The play was by far the most vulgar play of the night and would most definitely have been R-rated if made into a film. Joy reappears as Katherine, a crazy, violent woman, Posas comes back as an insane male chauvinist, and Kido enters the scene halfway through to add comic relief to the intense situation. Erika Ovuoba played an employee at the rental service company and very convincingly played her sassy character.
This play addressed gender equality and did so by mocking and ridiculing men, instead of celebrating women (or better yet, people, regardless of their sex). In fact, Custodio had the women characters threaten men with extreme violence, listing off a variety of tactics in which the men could be painfully killed, specifically dismemberment of their genitalia. Though gender equality is a vital goal in modern society, this portrayal of popular feminism took things too far. Violence towards any individual is never the proper approach to solve our problems. This performance was tasteless at best.
With the lights dimmed and the entire space shrouded in darkness, only some sound effects and brief dialogue could be heard in the background. Lighting designer McCormick could have added emergency vehicle-esque lights coming from behind the set to inspire a bit more sensation during the opening scene; however, the unlit room did illustrate the tragic feeling the playwright, Darryl Stamp, wished to have penetrate the hearts of the audience. A powerful, emotional start to this final short play gave me hope that this would provide a positive end to a night of ludicrous theatricality.
To my dismay, my hope was for naught. From the moment the subtlest of lights appeared on the set, the play seemed to work its way downhill. Ovuoba played the vulgar Jilly, daughter of Gerald (Keith) and the late Daria (Stange, again, fabulous). This performance, though sprinkled with humorous moments, was not spectacular. Gerald, an alcoholic widower, attempts to press his career interests of being a not-so-amazing stand-up comedian on his daughter, Jilly. She most definitely despises her father, though the pair hug it out to end the short production.
The story line was confusing (the actors traveled seamlessly between 1985 and 1994 with no concrete indication of the time change), and the unnecessary foul language and sexual references only made the story more difficult to decipher. In the short moments where Jilly and her father were to perform their stand-up acts for comedic relief, the addition of endless profanity was a poor attempt at inciting laughs from the audience. The script could have been filled with sincerely witty quips and lines inviting theatergoer reaction, rather than mind-numbing repetitions of the same, overused expletives. This would have helped to move the story along instead of leaving the viewer wondering whether they were supposed to chuckle.
On a slightly more positive note, Ovuoba briefly shows off her lyrical talent during, “Roar,” which added a very nice touch to the evening as a whole. Again, Stange performs her role marvelously as the wise, eventually late mother of a young woman who is emotionally torn at the seams.
Needless to say, the night spent at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center was quite the roller coaster. In an attempt to celebrate diversity and provide social commentary on issues such as race and gender, the way in which these messages were depicted was barely tolerable. The potential for brilliant play-making was there, but the performance fell short of even the least of my expectations.