SALT LAKE CITY — Can I Say Yes To That Dress?, the season opener for Salt Lake Acting Company, is written and performed by Sarah Shippobotham and directed by Jamie Rocha Allan. Shippobotham plays Sian Jones in this minimalist one-woman show. Like many one person shows, Sian spends the bulk of the show talking to the audience as she narrates her innermost thoughts about marrying Roger (without a “d”), and how this intersects with her complicated relationship to womanhood, femininity and romantic relationships.
On opening night, Shippobotham was recovering from an injury and performed a “pared down” version of the show that lacked the full blocking and technical elements. The stage is initially lit with dark blue/purple lights onto a stage with just a wire mannequin, mirrors attached to the metal structure in the background with Sian’s purse and water bottle next to the single chaise lounge sofa. The play opens with “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran as Shippobotham enters in a wedding dress, wearing brown boots. In the only creative use of lighting until the end, there is a single light on Sian as she opens with a famous soliloquy from Richard III, and the lights expand to reveal the entire room when Sian yells back at her mom about the wedding dress. The lighting does not change again until the end of the play. Can I Say Yes To That Dress? has no frills, which may have been due to the circumstances of the evening. The only sound effects are some bird and cheering that occur when Sian is miming a game of cricket, which concludes in a crescendo of sound toward the end of the play. But it is a moment of hilarity when the thesis of the show really shines through.
Because of the injury Sian spends almost the entirety of the play sitting down/on the sofa, and yet Allan’s directing really shines through in several instances. One memorable moment occurs when Sian is hungry and rummages through her bag to find an almost empty bag of cheese and onion crisps. Before diving into the bag, she spends a bit of time maneuvering her wedding gown, tucking it under her legs and away from her body. Hilariously, she eats the last remaining morsels, even getting some crumbs off the floor. The best part of the entire performance is when Sian is arguing with herself vis-a-vis her hand as a puppet who pushes back on her belief that she has to marry Roger; it encourages her to get on Tinder to have one-night stands, or alternatively to at least be emotionally vulnerable with Roger about her excess body hair. Throughout this portion of the play, Sian literally wrestles with her hand, and at several moments, changes the way her fingers are moving, indicating an attitude.
Many of Sian’s insights are so quotable: “Diaspora of femininity,” “I was stuffing my face if truth be told,” “What is a life lived from complete self love?” and more. It is easy to be pulled into her story of how she was cast as Juliet’s father due to her height in school, how she was mistaken for a boy as a child while having a shaved head, and her frustration with the massive disconnect between who she was and who society was expected her to be. However, despite the heaviness of Sian’s concerns, it was difficult to feel genuine sadness as she described her life.
Perhaps this is where Allan’s directing is weakest; Shippobotham is great at being sarcastic, self-deprecating, and at one point screams during the show. There is an overall sense of frustration, exasperation, or anger as Sian faces her life situation. But what about sadness? Or remorse? While talking about her experiences, Sian says that she has never told Roger about how she has to shave her face, and panics about having to hide this from him. She opines about why cannot she be both sexy and hairy. But it is difficult to believe that none of this would break a person’s heart (even if only in childhood). But perhaps that is the point. Sian struggles to be honest and vulnerable even with herself; as she fights with her hand, she tries to drown out its opinions by singing “Memories” from the musical Cats. It is a coping mechanism for the character to avoid facing her problems head-on, just as much as it is a moment of humor for the audience.
Can I Say Yes to That Dress? is a poignant conversation about womanhood, societal expectations, and how a person’s relationship with themself. Shippobotham is a joy to watch (including in moments where she allows herself to show off her expertise in accents). Can I Say Yes to That Dress? is Salt Lake Acting Company’s Barbie and allows audience members to revel in the talents of an excellent performer.