SALT LAKE CITY — Pretty Dirty, written and directed by Olivia Buck Smith, is a salient meditation on personal freedom versus expectations and constraints placed on women by society. The play opens with almost immediately with sound as Tessa (played by Courtney Cohen) scrolls through her phone while the audience hears the Law & Order: SVU theme, some news reporting, and other audio.
This use of sound is employed throughout the play to provide more details for the audience and characters. When Lizzie (played by Hannah Ekstrom) suffers a concussion during an avalanche while climbing Mount Timpanogos, the audience hears her side of the conversation as she explains what happened over the phone. An identical scenario took place earlier, when Halsey (played by Victoria Arlofski) calls Utah County Search and Rescue for information, and the audience can hear the dispatcher answer her questions.
While this can seem like an obvious choice, such a straightforward storytelling method can remove more creative options for communicating information, while inundating the audience. This is even more apparent in the argument between Tessa and Lizzie that occurs three months after her accident: Lizzie is planning another adventure and Tessa is beside herself with worry and judgement. Tessa accuses Lizzie of being a bad mother, telling her friend that her life is not her own because she has a daughter now. This scene feels long; the script tries to hammer home the point that Lizzie is singled out because she is a woman, while Tessa perceives Lizzie’s daredevil husband as a good dad (despite an injury that previously prevented him from tending to their daughter).
This point is pushed again when a spotlight is first used while Lizzie delivers a monologue detailing her stress of being in the apartment versus being outside (prompting all the other lights to turn on to indicate expansiveness). There is also another conversation between Lizzie and Halsey during their own trip together. In this scene, they discuss their feelings that their bodies are being controlled not just by the government, but by society as they are also told what to do, where to stand, and how to act in public spaces. This idea that the wilderness is the only place of true freedom where women can be who they are meant to be, is core to Pretty, Dirty.
A particular stand-out in Pretty Dirty is Bucksmith’s use of the stage. There is a small table with three chairs, which are used for kitchen scenes and turned over to be landscape as the characters go hiking. This is particularly notable when everyone goes to Mount Timpanogos, and the chairs are stacked on the table like a tall rock. The change in costumes when the characters make their way here is notable: everyone is wearing hiking boots and cargo pants with large backpacks for hiking.
Pretty Dirty is a great show for anyone who questions societal expectations, wants to resist hiding their true self, and embraces an adventure in the great wide world over the tedium of day-to-day life.