SALT LAKE CITY — In my high school theater class, we were taught that when a person wants something, they also—believe it or not—want its opposite. For example, I want to be healthy and finish my broccoli, but I also really want to throw it away and eat seven cookies. We theatre kids were told that an actor must be aware of these contrasting desires, and communicate them to our audience. Find and Sign is full of opposites, dilemmas, and duality. This play struck a chord with me as it showcased the polarity of human beings, and did so with flair. Wendy MacLeod, the writer of Find and Sign, was inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello. I don’t know all the traits the two shows share, but I do know that both plays explore the same themes: racism, love, jealousy, and betrayal.
The play opens with our hero and heroine meeting at a party in New York City. Iago’s focus, we find out later, is his career. He wants to find a great R&B group, sign them, and move up the corporate ladder. But Julia steps into his path and the two connect through their mutual frankness and humor; Julia sees potential in Iago, a trace of humanity that she decides to have faith in. Julia introduces Iago to one of her students, who is a talented musician. She also connects Iago’s boss with her beautiful roommate. Everyone in the cast gets conflicting desires to choose between throughout the show, and even beyond, as it doesn’t all get wrapped up by the end.
I was impressed with how full the theater was; Pioneer Theater Company sure knows how to pack a house. And most of the patrons near me seemed to be regulars. The play invited us into a different, cooler world than most of us see day to day (at least for me, anyway). The urban looking set, the parties, the lifestyle of a record executive—just the feeling created by the music (Matthew Tibbs) and lighting (Dennis Parichy) made me lean into the stage a little closer.
There were six actors in the show, and each was cast so well. I want to mention Iago (Karl Miller), who seemed like such a ho-hum guy at the beginning, but as Julia became more and more interested in him, so did I. Miller knew just how to deliver each line to make me love him, even when I thought maybe I shouldn’t. I have to say, too, that Julia’s best friend, Mona (Gardner Reed) was pretty much impeccable. She was glamorous, kind and energetic. Her English accent and her beautifully deep voice really added another color to the auditory environment. I loved her.
Julia (Molly Ward) was a delightfully awkward character, and she really explored a wide array of emotions. What a brave actress she was. There is a scene when Julia and Mona are in a clothing store, and Julia is picking out lingerie. We all know you’re supposed to try on those things over your own underwear, for sanitary purposes, and Julia follows this rule. But the ongoing scene that takes place with her wearing her possible purchase over her own white “granny-panties” is anything but routine—hilariously awkward and just plain funny. Props to Molly Ward.
One complaint about the acting, though I hate to mention it, is with Andre, Iago’s boss and best friend. Played by Keith Hamilton Cobb, Andre was supposed to be Jamaican, apparently, but his accent came and went throughout the show. Cobb did a great job, other than that. I loved it when he would swagger offstage, because physically, that man epitomized power.
I admire those who designed and created the set for Find and Sign (James Wolk). There is a sort-of patchwork background made out of bricks and metal-looking patterns. The sets for each scene roll on from the sides and through the background. Julia and Mona’s apartment, varying restaurants and clubs, and Andre’s office all came on and off with precision. Director Charles Morey intricately weaved the actors’ entrances and exits into these set changes, and most costume changes (with costumes designed by Pamela Scofield), too, were seamlessly made on stage during transitions. The actors stayed in character and carried their emotions with them in the dimmed lighting. The whole thing was like a dance; it was fascinating. And I won’t give away the ending, but thank you to the set design team, and the costumers, for painting a beautiful finale.
There were some hilarious lines in this production. Can’t help but mention the comparison between The Cat in The Hat and being on drugs, the discussion between Andre and Iago about what a Boppy is, lots and lots of queries as to whether a previous comment was racist, and a bit of good- natured jokes about New York City. My favorite, favorite line (you can see the show to find out who says it) is, “I will love you when you are plump and grey.”
Be advised that there is some adult content in this production. Personally, I didn’t feel overly put off by anything in the show. Ok, but one short scene did make me uncomfortable. It preceded Iago and Julia’s first intimate encounter and I just didn’t enjoy how openly they were speaking. Also, the profanity seemed to multiply near the end. But I knew what I was getting into; the content was clearly advertised on the website and even in the lobby of the theater. An older man behind me (maybe not so well-informed) commented at intermission that the production was like something you’d see on television that you “maybe outta turn off, but you leave on.” It made me smile a bit.
My eyes and ears were pretty much delighted by this engaging show. I don’t think a single line fell flat—such clever writing it was. The actors are phenomenal, and the director used his wonderful crew to full advantage. I wish I had room to list every name. Find and Sign is a great piece of theatre at the PTC; you ought to go fill up one of their few empty seats. Really. Go.