By Andrea Johnson
Plan-B Theatre’s The Weird Play, now being produced in Salt Lake City at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, is the first show I’ve been able to review for a while. I am very glad The Weird Play was my first jump back into theater after my enforced absence. Theater serves many purposes. It entertains. It creates. It elevates. It makes us think. How we get to those purposes isn’t ever the same. Sometimes we are entertained, and then realize we were made to think. Often, we are elevated into thought. Occasionally we are even entertained into creating. The Weird Play thinked me into love.
The most interesting thing happened as my husband and I left the theater. We realized we saw two completely different shows. Completely different plots, completely different characters. I asked him what he thought, expecting a recitation to echo mine, and his description, analysis, conclusions, and assessments blew me away. They were important, relevant, profound. And wrong. Completely wrong. That was not the play I saw. At about 45th South, I finally told him about my play, my plot, my characters. And I was completely and utterly wrong. Or perfectly right. He was perfectly right also. The only thing we agreed on was the title was appropriate: this is The Weird Play.
This review is hard to write, because detailing any of the play, the plot or the characters, would not be right. Or, it would. Either you will agree with me, or you will wonder if I was at a different theater altogether. But, my job is to review. On the other hand, in all actuality, my job is to celebrate. Celebrating the GOOD in Utah Arts. The Weird Play is good. It is worth celebrating.
Jenifer Nii has created a work of beauty and grace, altogether raw and harsh, altogether bright and clear. Nii said of this piece, “The Weird Play is about love and connection. I built it the way I did (which is radically different from anything I’ve tried before) because I think that these are what we’re losing, what we need to hold on to most, and what – in the face of so much divisiveness – remind us that we have a common core.” Author! Author! Mission accomplished. Please don’t believe for one moment the ride home with my husband was an argument. It was a discovery. I have been with my husband over 20 years, and the conversations get a little dull at times. Dull was not last night. Connection and love was last night.
This is an ensemble piece. The names of the characters are merely for reference, because everything about them, from their appearance to their function, fits what speaks to you. Susanna Florence (One), Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin (Two), and April Fossen (Three) are each and separately divine, but the work they present together is superlative. I could not escape, so complete was the world they brought me to. The bubbles humans normally walk around in are cast down and the women interact intimately, lovingly, cruelly, and purposefully. Being able to feel emotion certainly has a downside you learn not to regret.
Director Alex Ungerman has created a world that invites the audience in, and once there, makes you at once extremely uncomfortable and right at home. It is stark and inviting, enticing and frightening. Weird. Also, wonderful. I want to go again. See this again. Maybe watch it through my husband’s view. Perhaps to see it differently still. Perhaps. To be honest, I had to check to see if there was a director. This piece feels so organic; it is like it just became. To the director’s credit, there appears to be no manipulation and no staging. This flies in the face of the production element. The piece runs like a ballet, movement into movement, theme into theme, one face of love into another. It must have been choreographed, directed, manipulated. It just didn’t feel like it.
The Weird Play is precisely what humans need to experience, breaking down the bubbles and connecting on an important and potentially painful level. This is theater that pushes our cut-and-dried, clean-and-tidy, perfection-over-substance personas out of the way and demands we love ugly, cry ugly, and take care of each other significantly.
Plan-B Theatre Company is exactly as edgy as the name suggests. This show requires an open mind and a mature world view. If you are fortunate enough to go, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center has lots of paid parking close to the theater, and the black box is just a short walk from the revolving doors on the east side of the theater on Broadway (300 South) in Salt Lake. The show runs 67 minutes without an intermission, and if you need to leave the theater before the show ends, you will not be allowed back in, so plan accordingly.
If you do go, I would love to hear about the play you saw. It will be almost as good as seeing it again. Perhaps better.
Plan-B Theatre Company presents The Weird Play, by Jenifer Nii
March 1-11, Thursday- Saturday 8:00 PM, Saturday matinee 4:00 PM, Sunday matinee 2:00 PM
Studio Theatre, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 Broadway, Salt Lake City, Utah
Tickets: $20 (Pre-paid Wait-list only available)*
*This show is sold out. Pre-paid wait-list tickets are an option. (Anyone want to hang out with me in the wait-list line?) INFORMATION FROM PLAN-B: The run of The Weird Play is completely sold out. BUT YOU CAN STILL SEE THE SHOW ON A SOLD OUT DATE! A pre-paid wait list will form in the Rose Wagner box office one hour before show time. You must be there, in person, to get on the wait list. Then check back five minutes before show time. As many waitlisters as possible will be seated at show time. Those we can’t seat will receive a full refund. Plan-B has never had a sold-out performance where at least two waitlisters haven’t been seated.
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The Weird Play Facebook Event