SALT LAKE CITY — I had heard nothing but rave reviews about shows at the Salt Lake Acting Company, so I was greatly anticipating seeing my first show there. The description of (a man enters) made the show sound like it would be right up my alley, and it was. The world of the play is one of blurred lines and distorted realities. Maybe a better way to say it is “vastly different perspectives.”
The story revolves around a party that is being thrown and a family that has some issues. The character that is at the center of these issues seems to be the father, Peter (Terence Goodman). Peter left the family many years ago to move on to “bigger and better” things. Since then he has remarried, traveled the world, and won the Nobel Prize for work in artificial intelligence. He seems to have managed all right. Then there is the rest of the family: the mother, Terry (Joyce Cohen), and the two children, Milo and Rosie (Jesse Perry and Amanda Mahoney).
Peter also happens to be at the center of the party. Not because it is being held for him, but because he has been invited and if he does show up, it will be the first time the children will have seen him since he left 20 years ago. This preoccupation with whether or not Peter will show, and what he will think, say, and do when he arrives, is what fuels the thematic questions in the script.
The play was written by a local Mother/Daughter team, Elaine Jarvik and Kate Jarvik Birch. In the interview included in the program they mentioned that the story mirrors some of their personal experiences and family struggles. However, they noted that at a certain point the story needed to evolve beyond a pure autobiography. I feel this was quite helpful in allowing them to really explore some of the questions that are raised, while still being firmly grounded in a situation that has so many painful elements of truth.
The themes and questions that are examined all seem to revolve around what is normal and what is expected. Rosie, the daughter who is planning the party, becomes obsessed with the perfection of the party for fear of what her father might think. Milo, the son, and his wife Dana (Deena Marie Manzanares) have decided to take an alternative view on the traditional idea of marriage because of the failure of Peter and Terry’s marriage. Terry has fears about the idea of being replaced by another woman. All of this revolves around the actions of Peter and much of it is explored through the blurring of reality.
Throughout the play, there were a number of cutaway, or daydream scenes. The lighting would become more surreal and one of the characters would imagine what they would say to this father when he showed up, some of them involve airports, some involve role-playing, many involve zaniness, but all of them give us vital clues into the mind of the character that is doing the imagining. There was a wonderful level of depth written into the characters as well as the dialogue. This was not a black-and-white scenario. We knew how certain characters felt, how they were supposed to feel, what told themselves they felt, etc. Much of this was discussed in the “real” portion of the show, but the cutaways added some great highlights. Overall, director Alexandra Harbold, handled this switching between worlds well. The key to these switches was the use of lighting and slight moderations in acting style. This allowed Harbold to clearly differentiate between the real and imaginary; that is, until she chose to deliberately start blurring the lines in the second act, which I thought was wonderful.
The acting, for the most part, was well done. I feel that the cast did better at connecting with the dramatic portions of the show than with the comedic elements. This was in part due to the constant nature of switching between realism and absurdity. It required two very different styles of comedy and sometimes they would bleed into each other. There were times in the realist portions that I felt like some of the characters were playing to the audience too much. These came off as a little unnatural, but would have been great had it been during the established parameters of an abstract scene.
While the entire cast did very well, I have to say that my favorite performance of the evening was that of Jesse Perry, who played the son, Milo. Perry was able to create a very natural and realistic character that I felt was actually a good grounding point in the story. For me, his character and the way in which he played it allowed me as an audience member to connect with something real so that I could then explore all of the elements of the play that were surreal.
I really did enjoy this play. Yes there are things that could have been improved script-wise, directing-wise, and acting-wise, but I love the fact that this play makes the audience member ask so many powerful questions, offers a myriad of opinions on the topic, and then refuses to really draw any clear conclusions. For me, that format is very effective, and it was a bonus that it happened to be done in a style that I love. I love that the play remained mostly exploratory and tended to avoid the didactic or preachy dialogue that is so tempting to go to when trying to show your side of the story. And I especially love that this is a quality script that has been written by local authors. We need more of that in Utah.
So, if you haven’t gleaned this by now, I would recommend that you see this show. It was definitely not without its faults, and it probably won’t win a Pulitzer, but it had a wonderful audience reaction and is worth supporting. It will make you think a little bit and re-examine (but not necessarily change) some opinions. They’re hoping that you’ll show up, and maybe you will this time…