SALT LAKE CITY — You stand before a door. You wait for the signal to open it. You enter a small room and are immersed in a moment: a confession, a confrontation, a seduction, a silence. You travel solo through 11 rooms across 23 3-minute scenes as the puzzle of Walter Eyer’s life takes shape. In most rooms you stand as proxy for Walter. Actors, inches away, look you in the eye, addressing you as their lover, father, or child. In other rooms you are alone, left to confront your own experiences. What will you confess to the bathroom stall? What do you unpack from the toy chest?
A Brief Waltz in a Little Room is the most immersive theater experience I’ve taken part in. All senses are engaged. Through music, food, darkness, reading, and speaking, I was moved to laughter, tears, longing, and shame. As I sat in the final room the words “redemption song” emerged from the swirl of my emotions. Each performance is limited to ten audience members, who, while experiencing the same 23 scenes, will have a highly individualized experience as they will encounter each scene in a unique order. The experience was deeply private, and yet I am left longing to speak with other’s who have gone through it. If you are lucky enough to see this show, please find me so we can talk about it.
Sackerson theatre’s mission statement is “New works, unconventional spaces, bold audiences.” A Brief Waltz, staged in the back rooms of the Gateway’s Urban Arts Gallery, hits all three of those desrciptions. It is also local and timely, grappling fiercely with the complexities of sexuality, family relationships, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The action and relationships presented are human without being sensational, and gutsy without being confrontational. This is one man’s story. The conflict comes as audience members recognize it is their own story as well.
The creators have transformed the space, and every step holds an innovative surprise. I could have spent another hour just exploring the details of the rooms built by the team of art, sound, and media designers. As in life, there is more sound, visual detail and emotional nuance than the human eye can take in with the time allotted each scene. There is also a highly praiseworthy film, directed by Archie Christanos and Ross Wilcox, that bookends the live performance.
I found the moments of scripted story, attributed to Matthew Ivan Bennett, Shawn Francis Saunders, and Morag Shepherd, particularly compelling. The language is by turns playful, crushing, and comforting, and Robert Scott Smith, in the role of Walter, communicates incredible emotional nuance. A particular moment, where I/Walter was directly addressed by deity, was especially moving and joyful. The actors I saw (all roles are double cast) on opening night, P.J. Volk, Claire Stucki, and Holly Fowers, were fearless in their vulnerability and I found myself physically and emotionally drawn to each of them.
I hesitate to say much more about the performance, as it must be experienced uniquely by each audience member, but the trio of directors (Jamie Rocha Allan, Dave Mortensen, and Morag Shepherd) and the cast make A Brief Waltz in a Little Room an unforgettable experience. Plays like this makes me grateful not just for story and performance, but just to be a human alive in a world where art exists. If you are able to secure a ticket, I’d encourage you to arrive early and spend some time browsing this fantastic space full of local creations.
Full disclosure: One of the producers and directors of this production (Dave Mortensen) is the founder of Utah Theatre Bloggers Association and a member of its board of directors. As a board member he is in charge solely of the technical functioning of the web site. Mr. Mortensen had no involvement with the writing or editing of this piece. Honest criticism was encouraged