SALT LAKE CITY — I don’t know what it is about playwrights writing about playwriting, but there are many plays written that way. I don’t have anything against it, but since it has been done so often, I do have higher expectations of such a common play set up. Award-winning playwright George Plautz wrote The Final Act, produced by Wasatch Theatre Company, and though it was enjoyable to follow the dialogue and some of the side stories, the main theme of the show did not come across as he may have expected, and in the end, left me feeling irritated.
The play is about two male friends, one gay and one straight, who both enjoy writing plays. Greg, the straight guy, is successful and has been known for his works. His friend, Ben, can’t seem to write well enough to be noticed, so because they’ve been close for so many years (close enough to have matching tattoos), he takes one of Greg’s plays and submits it as his own and gets chosen to go to New York. Because the contest was just for up and coming writers and not established writers, he cannot add Greg’s name to the play and struggles to write the second act and the ending. Greg at first refuses to help, but when Ben attempts romance with him, he decides to help but also reminds Ben he is not interested in that kind of relationship. As they work on the play together, keeping the secret that it’s really Greg’s work, they go through a few hurdles with the play and in their friendship but finally end up fixing it all. Other friends and lovers come in and out of their lives and two of them, Jen and Simon, end up with a great business idea. It meddles in themes of friendship, loyalty, and career success in the theatre world.
Jonathan Ybanez played Greg, and was a skilled actor and convincing with his emotions onstage. I appreciated his timing on reactions to others, especially with Ben. Tom Roche played Ben and though he seemed to perform the lines well, he was often turned too sharply away from the audience so I couldn’t see his face as he talked. The acting I most enjoyed was Mitch Daley who played Simon. Granted, he did have the best written character, lines, and costumes, but he also portrayed his character in the most believeable way.
There is no director listed for this show, but the blocking looked great to me. Jim Martin is listed as Facilitator, and perhaps he was in charge of these things. I enjoyed all of their levels, movements, and going up and downstage. The actors made sensible use of the space as they spoke, like when Ben picks up garbage as he’s requesting Greg to help him write. One thing I found confusing was casting the same actor to play Evan and Damien. Both characters were played by Ryan Leach, and after having the character of Damien foreshadowed by everyone through the show, it was a let-down to see the same actor from the beginning with no real explanation as to why it was the same actor.
Set Designer Lucas Bybee did a great job. I enjoyed the brick walls and hanging art. I liked how the area was set up with multiple places to sit and the room felt well balanced. The stark difference between scenes when it was clean vs. dirty was hilarious. I was suprised to see that the crew included an Intimacy Director, Liz Whittaker, who had a lot of intimate moments to work with. I greatly enjoyed the scene between Simon and Jen when they are high, especially the part with Jen curled up on the couch like a little puppy next to Simon. Sadly, I was disappointed with some of the other intimate moments which looked unnatural and staged. For example, when Ben kisses Greg, which seemed to be a huge changing point in their friendship, the interaction didn’t come across truthfully.
The main problem with the show was that Greg is taken advantage of by his friend, and lets it happen again and again in the name of friendship. A lot of his lines show how fed up he is with Ben, but he never takes action to put up healthy boundaries. He even helps Ben cheat the theatre system by giving him content he didn’t write himself so he could win, thus making the whole contest unfair for everyone. This seems mostly unfair to Ben, who may never push himself to become great at writing with his friend being a useful crutch. I didn’t see any of the characters change in a meaningful way. They had material success, and that was all.
If you wish to see this play, be warned that Google Maps will take you to the wrong place if you search Wasatch Theatre Company, and as I was fruitlessly scouring for an open door at their former location at the Gateway, I found I wasn’t the only one who made that mistake. The show is in the Regent Street Black Box at the Eccles, and there is a convenient parking garage directly across from the entrance. This show had its moments of fun and hilarity, and the dialogue was well written and the performance flowed well and kept my interest. However, I hope that the future of theatre is brighter than the narrative of this play, and that playwrights can find more meaningful stories to share. I am tired of seeing plays without substance, and seeing an entire group of people work so hard to produce something unsatisfactory was disheartening.