By Jamie Haderlie
When you go to see a show at the annual Fringe Festival in Salt Lake City, you can definitely expect bare bones, low-budget storytelling at its finest. However, in the case of Exposure, performed at the Courage Theater at Westminster College, I was pleasantly surprised to walk into a very professional black box theater setting.
The set, staged with a charming minimalism of two chairs, a mattress, a table,two laptops and a cell phone, gives the audience a brilliant foreshadowing of what’s about to happen. Soft Alternative rock music plays in the background, enveloping the audience in the familiar scenario of being single. With a meticulously-crafted set and environment, I knew I was in for a treat. This set me up in a delightful way for the unexpected: a beautifully intense experience of lies, truth, and the tango they dance.
Exposure tells the story of a man, Miles (played with heart-touching cynicism by JayC Stoddard), who is addicted to internet dating. He meets a fellow addict, Faye (played with beautiful optimism by Natalia Noble), and they engage in some playful cyber-relations. This is definitely not a play to show the kids. Although there is no nudity, Exposure explores every facet of dating website fantasies, including cyber sex. Needless to say, if an episode of Sex and the City can make you blush, this play is not for you. However, if you are looking to get struck to the core with heartfelt honesty and witness the brilliantly-crafted journey of two people putting up walls, tearing them down, exploiting and exposing, go see this play now.
One of the most creative elements of this story is the introduction to the other characters. The play begins, not with Stoddard and Noble, but with two others–a flirtatious, charismatic and sensual woman named Lilly (played with unbridled enthusiasm by Andrea Peterson), and a confident, slightly smug, detached man named Ethan (played with remarkable realism by Derek Gregerson.) As the play continues and these two interact, we soon realize they are the personifications of the ultimate, ideal online profile. Lilly and Ethan are fictional projections representing what Faye and Miles wish they could really be. Faye eloquently describes Lilly as a defense mechanism when she says, “She takes the ugly for me. There’s nothing anyone can say that will ever hurt her. She’s the me I can’t be.”
Noble sets the tone of the play immediately, nestled safely in her barricade of lies. She asks Stoddard to “lie to me with a kiss.” In so doing, she sends Peterson out dancing in the ether, reveling in fantasy. She performs an intense tango with Gregerson, ultimately ending in an powerdul climax. (See? Keep the kids at home.)
Stoddard, Noble, Peterson, and Gregerson perform their roles of intermingled fantasy and reality with remarkable skill and honesty. Each actor portrays their character perfectly and dances a fascinating tango as the mood shifts from fun flirtation to deep introspection. The blocking is impeccably crafted, with each character interacting physically and swapping partners depending on the transition in emotion, from guarded to exposed. The music accompanies the movement with clever planning, shifting from Tango to Jazz to Alternative rock. I felt as if the audience was watching a modern dance performance, a music concert, and an incredible play all in one.
As the characters take us down a guided tour of the truth and lies of internet dating, they remind us of who we are at our core and begin to strip away at our facades, revealing honest insecurities bit by bit, until we too are exposed. Director Josh Patterson keeps the show tight and–perfect.
Written by Stoddard and Noble, I was worried that a play written by young actors would come across as many plays written by younger actors do– forced and clichéd. I was so wrong. Exposure is not only a well-executed play, but a very important work of literature for our time. It both mocks and expertly exposes the intricacies of how we present ourselves online, how greatly we depend upon our addictions to the attention, and how easily the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred. In my opinion, Exposure deserves national exposure as one of the most well-written, ingeniously-crafted works of our generation.
I love that the Salt Lake City Fringe Festival provides opportunities for playwrights, actors, and directors to present their remarkable creations to the masses. I was truly touched by this play and left with a deep sense of wonder at the resilience, optimism, cynicism, and the cold, guarded nature of the human spirit. If you make it out to the festival to see any production, this is the must-see experience of a lifetime.
Utah Repertory Theater presents Exposure by Natalia Noble and Jay C. Stoddard
The Courage Theater at the Jewett Center for Performing Arts at Westminster College (1840 South 1300 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84105)
Tickets: $10, with a $5 festival admission fee at http://greatsaltlakefringe.org
July 29 9:00-10:00 PM, August 3 9:00-10:00 PM, July 30 5:30 PM-6:30 PM, August 4 10:30-11:30 PM, August 6 6:00-7:00 PM