LINDON — Nestled off the beaten path in Lindon, Utah, the people there have been producing plays for 38 years, providing wholesome, family entertainment. Currently, they are in the middle of a production of Backstage, a play written by Jody Renstrom, who is also one of the owners of VCP. Her story’s action is one about the audition, early rehearsals, dress rehearsal and run of a play. But it is mostly about the people the performers play who are characters in a play. So to not confuse you, let me try to explain it another way. We have actors playing people who are actors playing characters. I’m not sure that made it any clearer, but I hope you get the idea. As a person involved with theater productions I can relate all too well to the process and the types of people depicted in Backstage.
The real director of this play is Tyler Renstrom who also is very funny in the role of the director of the play within the play. Tyler Renstrom’s character is that self absorbed, “I am wonderful, don’t you know you are privileged to work with me” kind of director. For me, David’s lines brought my biggest laughs. From the beginning, he is telling his cast and crew that they are privileged to be part of this show, because they get to work with him. Boy, I’ve known a director or two like this.
Jennifer Mustoe played the part of Connie the assistant director. Connie is the confident “I will do anything you want, I aim to please” assistant director and Jennifer does this well. But it gets really funny when Connie, who has a bad case of stage fright, is thrown onstage on opening night. Jennifer’s level of freak out as Connie/Annie, the maid in the play within the play, is great to watch as she shrieks about everything from remembering her blocking to how she’s sure her shoes are wrong for the part she must play. Her portrayal was very believable and I loved it when she said her lines as the terrified actress.
Other members of the cast made me smile throughout the evening as they played their roles. Tyrone Svedin played the part of Ken the actor who genuinely has talent and is humble, which I found believable in Svedin’s performance. (I liked his audition scene the best.) Craig Mustoe plays the part of Bruce the “I don’t know boundaries, I’m a little self obsessed and need your approval” actor. His performance made me smile and made my week, especially because the way he uses his toupee was so funny. Daniel Tomlinson played the role of Jonathan, who was very consistent in his over-the-top role of an exaggerating actor; I loved his phyiscality, especially in Tomlinson’s rehearsal scene.
Kristen Leinbach as Paula (Helen in the play within the play) was the thread that wove this production and held it together. Like the character she portrays, she is the solid leading lady—poised and elegant with her ad lib skills shining. Leinbach doesn’t get a lot of comedic opportunities, but she does have one scene with a zipper that’s stuck that is pretty great.
Katherine Bickel plays Jennifer, shy and unassuming, receiving the part of Annie the maid in the play within a play. She quickly becomes the romantic lead when she has to fill in at the last minute on opening night. Bickel, too, wasn’t given a lot of comedy, but she is clearly a focused and believable actress. It was a little bit of a princess moment when she changes from the rather serviceable maid costume into a beautiful ball gown when she is asked to play the lead.
Grace Hansen plays the part of the snooty actress, Barbara, who plays Aleena in the play within the play. Hansen’s character is manipulative and spiteful, and I wondered a little if she struggled with being that mean. At times her lines felt forced, but she did an overall good job of playing the person you love to hate. Dallin Smith played Brent, the “ever ready to fix it stagehand.” The character evens wants to fix relationship, as he spends much of the evening trying to play matchmaker and set people up with one another. I liked his delivery, which always seemed so sweet and genuine.
Becca Gunyan rounds out the cast playing Ingrid, the “crazy costume lady.” I enjoyed watching Gunyan and it seems that she enjoys playing her role. However, two things bothered me about her performance. First, Gunyan played the part with an accent that I felt made it hard to understand what she was saying most the time. Second, her personality of the costume lady was very funny, but seemed a little incongruent. She cares so much about the costumes to measure even the tiniest part of the actor yet throws the costumes on the floor—twice. But I recognize that this disconnect for Gunyan’s character may have also been a directorial choice. I enjoyed her enthusiasm especially in the scene when the leading lady’s dress doesn’t make it on stage and the characters have to figure out how to get it to her. I also loved Gunyan in the scene where she has to come up with dresses for the actors who have to fill in when the one actress breaks her leg and is unable to perform.
This show is about actors and the characters they play and the interesting situations that arise when going through the production process. My favorite part was in the third act when we finally get to see the “backstage” part of this production. The lines the actors used in auditions and rehearsals are being given off stage (the on stage “show”) and we get to see on stage all the crazy things that happen backstage as the situations arise. There are no elaborate lighting scenes and the minimal set works well in this small theater. The costumes are great and even the stagehand character gets wardrobe changes. However, the first scene change seemed really long to me, perhaps because of a slow costume change.
Throughout the evening, though, the audience was laughing a lot as was I, especially in the third act. If you want a good laugh, you should definitely pay a visit to the Valley Center Playhouse.