SALT LAKE CITY — Written by Aaron Loeb, Ideation is a contemporary play which premiered in 2016. It is a journey through the average corporate American’s mind that exhibits if and when ethics trump self-interest. Ranging from comedy to contention and anxiety to apathy, Ideation has it all. While at times one might feel morally ambiguous laughing at some of the darker and more serious subject matter Ideation carefully straddles the line between “off-limits” and “eerily hilarious.”
The show begins with the premise that a group of corporate professionals are tasked with disposing a large amount of bodies. While the cast knows they are to propose a liquidation plan for a million human bodies, they do not know if this is a health concern, a sinister genocide, or something else entirely. At first diligent and objective, the team dives into the challenge ahead. Eventually questions of transparency from the CEO who assigned the dreaded task and the trustworthiness of each other within the group lead to disorder and paranoia. Due to the team having very little detail on the assignment they begin to question themselves, each other, and the world’s economies and morals. So, the circular blaming and speculating ensues. From boss lady to intern, each character has their own arc in which he or she rapidly shifts between logic and lunacy. This process proves to be amusing as the perceived antagonist shifts and varies throughout the play as the team attempts to ideate the likely horrible, possibly gallant, and potentially theoretical puzzle before them.
Wasatch Theatre Company begins the Ideation experience immediately upon entering the small, quaint space. Dressed in business attire, the usher announced, “15 minutes until the meeting begins,” as though the audience will be participants in the madness to come. Once seated, the voice over offers messages from “WT Consulting,” rather than Wasatch Theatre Company, to further the experience. The set (designed by Rufus Zae JoeDeus) is simple: a whiteboard, a conference desk and chairs, as well as office supplies and the expected amount of Starbucks cups and coffee mugs needed in order to fuel the dubious mission ahead. The conference room is the single set stage, which is marked off with caution tape. The caution tape on the inside of the stage was painted grey appearing as a normal office wall. On the outside, the original “caution” message foreshadows the dangerous choices to be made within the room. While simple, this set works. The straightforward set and intimate theatre are perfect complements to the vivacity of the cast.
The show begins with high energy and intensity, which continues for roughly 95 minutes. There is no intermission, nor was one needed, as the production offered constant stimulation that never lulled or dipped in potency. The actors all delivered excellent performances encompassing humor, fear, and contempt at the appropriate times. I don’t know that I can choose a favorite performance because each actor brought something substantive to the show. I have to give credit to Tyler Fox as Brock, the confident and borderline egoistical consultant. Fox brought such an urgent presence to this production. His mannerisms were funny in the lighter scenes, his sarcasm was effective, and his transition from aloof arrogance to alarm to determination was well done and believable. In one scene Fox portrayed a plausible panic attack signifying the cast’s realization of the gravity of their situation. Another scene deserving recognition is when Fox and Jeffrey Owen engage in a convincing and intense physical fight, which is just one highlight of Owen’s own noteworthy and convincing performance as Ted.
Stacey Jenson, playing Hannah the “boss lady,” offers another dimension of great acting with her memorable emoting, strong diction, and effective chemistry—especially in one of the zestier scenes. This scene was so successful I felt like I was intruding on an intimate moment and that I shouldn’t be there. Also, worth mention is Abhi Harihumar as Sandeep, the project engineer. I truly enjoyed watching Harkihumar take Sandeep down the rabbit hole of distrust and suspicion. He delivers one of the more memorable rants including what I see as the play’s thesis, “It is the most remarkable thing about you — about Americans. You are so entirely trusting while at the same time being so profoundly paranoid about the wrong things.” Yet, recalling Harkhumar’s final rant brings me to my only complaint about the production: the lighting (designed by Emma Belnap) in the periphery of the stage was poor and when the actors moved to the edges of the stage, I often was unable to see the actor’s expressions as I would have liked to.
The actors weren’t the only victory in Ideation. The production was also well directed by Haley McCormick. There were bouts of pure intensity when one of the characters lapsed into an apprehension that were coupled well with comedic relief from another actor. In one scene the actors on set are frantically and hilariously searching the set for bugs from the perceived threat of the moment while the Beyoncé hit “Single Ladies” played from the sound system. I was captivated with the speed and energy of this play and did not want the show to end. Without srevealing any spoilers, Ideation left me wanting more in a good way. The play had an abrupt and open-ended finish which can be a hit or miss; this was a hit.
Ideation works in so many ways. When reading beforehand that I would be seeing a “creepy comedy,” I was unsure of what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised with how funny and entertaining the show turned out to be. The unconventional and questionably depraved humor was a win while concurrently presenting thought provoking scenarios. This play is current, relevant, and deserves to be seen.