SUGAR HOUSE — Experimental theatre in Salt Lake and Utah counties is generally an extremely rare occurrence. There is a “mainstream theatre” niche that the general population seems to have bought into exclusively. However, to my very pleasant surprise, I discovered The Sugar Space. The Sugar Space is an unassuming, self-proclaimed “hole-in-the-wall” performance space in Sugarhouse, Utah. The Sugar Space functions as a multi-disciplinary art space designed specifically to support and enhance the creation of new and experimental pieces of art. The lobby of the theatre is adorned with works from local visual artist and rotates every 45 days. The performance space is an adaptable black-box that seats up to around 80 people with capabilities to host dance, visual and theatrical art pieces.
Currently being presented in The Sugar Space is a visiting piece, on tour from Aporia Productions based in Minneapolis, MN entitled Mammal Stories. The piece is experimental theatre at its finest. The show, written by Rachel Nelson, centers itself on the lives of four individuals, each trying to understand their own existence and maintain control over it in an ever-shifting 21st century America. As I watched these characters intertwine and touch each other’s lives in various, unexpected ways I felt myself compelled to reflect on my own position in the world and how I interact with it. Nelson, who also acts in the show, presents us with four very different characters that use things such as religion, sexuality, relationships and even destruction as anchoring forces in their ultimately surreal world.
As with most experimental theatre pieces, the production aspects of the show are not the point. The show is mounted with only a few props, four chairs and minimal lighting, including a visually stunning white Chinese lantern meant to represent the full August moon. The focus is on how these characters, as representatives of us, search for themselves and their individual identities as human beings.
The piece was littered with visually stunning images and innovative use of silhouette and human interaction. One particularly stand out moment came at the very end, as all the actors lay on the floor and proceeded to depict a simple, beautiful dance with flashlights shining on the wall symbolizing not only searching, but interconnectivity between human beings and the simple ways in which we touch one another’s lives and provide meaning one for another. This evening there were only four audience members—not including the stage managers—but the story was so captivating and the performances so honest that I completely forgot the fact that the house was near empty. I was pulled into the sweltering heat of the play and found myself both entranced and interconnected with the performers.
All four performers (Jami Jerome, Ben Walton, Sarah Hollows and Rachel Nelson) are to be commended for individual moments of brilliance and a collective performance energy and continuity that are refreshing to watch. The text of the play is rich with imagery and symbolism that allows audiences to reflect end engage in ways perhaps we had not thought to before.
Rarely do we have an opportunity to see such a uniquely innovative piece of art here. The Sugar Space currently functions as a non-profit organization whose goal is solely to support and provide space for new, experimental works like “Mammal Stories” as well as various works from local artists. To those reading, I cannot encourage you enough to go support this fabulous piece and this wonderful performance space. Please not that this show contains adult language and themes.