SALT LAKE CITY — Cherry Wine in Paper Cups, written by Utah local author Morag Shepherd, and directed by Dave Mortensen and Claire Stucki, is a brief production where the audience sits socially distanced on the hills outside the Salt Lake City Library at Library Square, listening on sanitized headphones while three characters, Rain (played by Isabel Crews), Taylor (played by Jesse Nepivoda), and the Narrator (played by Barrett Ogden), show how through three different vignettes that no matter how Rain and Taylor meet, fate will always have it’s way. Or will it?
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Sackerson searched for ways to innovate and create new theatre. So, I was unsurprised that they were able to find a way to make social distancing not only comfortable, but basically unnoticeable. (My husband and I brought a picnic blanket, though I’m a lazy wife and didn’t pack a meal, which was suggested.) The headphones Sackerson offered had individualized coverings for safety, and each audience group was seated far more than six feet away from one another. With the cooperative weather and the lovely setting with bridges, grass, trees, the setting was so idyllic that it would make Shakespeare jealous.
The production focuses on how Taylor and Rain interact during their first chance meetings, and asks how their lives would have changed if the circumstances were different. The narrator is reminiscent of one of the Greek fates, and Ogden seems to have the perfect persona for that part. He has a commanding presence about himself that tends to dominate the other characters, getting them to bend to his will when he speaks, almost like a movement that initiates others to move with him.
Nepivoda and Crews also work well together, and each time they meet, I feel like the story is rewinding and starting again. The dialogue is a little uncomfortable, which was likely meant to be, as dialogue on a first date usually is. As each of the stories started to build and then end, I found myself wondering what the point was going to be, and was very pleasantly pleased with the twist at the end. Nepivoda, as Taylor, is pleasing at discussing how he enjoys the colors of the things that he sees and how he wants to seize the moment. Meanwhile, Crews is excellent at wanting to lay out all her faults on the table, not wanting to wait to be hurt (something I can relate to quite well from my dating days). The characters felt real and relatable, and not just caricatures.
The performance only lasted an hour, which is common for shows during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, I highly encourage supporting the artists that are thinking creatively and mounting productions during this time. Sackerson has a production worth seeing, full of artistic risks but no health risks. I applaud them for finding ways to provide content safely, while still promoting art and performance.
Full disclosure: One of the 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.