OREM — As I stepped into the Noorda Theatre at Utah Valley University to see the opening production of SAST (Short Attention Span Theatre), I found myself welcomed into an atmosphere very different than I had ever seen at previous performances. The set was simply a series of black platforms, the lights were dim, and all that could be seen onstage was a single ghost light.
The image of the ghost light was an appropriate one for this performance. Meant as a tool to illuminate dark places when a theatre is not in use, a ghost light is a piece of equipment unique to the theatre world. I felt the same way about the performances. This years production felt like it connected to those who know the world behind the stage. While at first I was worried it would feel exclusive to those who don’t have that same experience, I was relieved to find myself and many others in the audience warmly welcomed into this world, theatre buff or not.
For those who aren’t familiar to the format of SAST, it is a constantly changing production that features short plays written, directed, acted, and designed by students and features a group called The Black Box Repertory Company. These students perform musical interludes between each play, this year focusing on life in the average theatre department. Because it is hard to review each play in depth, I’ve decided to write about some of the highlights of the performance.
The Black Box Repertory had many bright moments throughout the night. Their tongue in cheek numbers made fun of many aspects of theatre but at the same time paid a great homage to such a lively art. My favorite performances were “Romeo and Juliet,” a number performed by Natalie Devine and Ames Bell, and “Audition Rag,” performed by the company and starring Camille Evens and Andy Hansen. Both numbers made fun of theatre and those who watch it, but they managed to come off as very clean, crisp, and honest, although wildly outrageous in delivery.
As for the plays themselves, I was happy with much of what I saw. There were a few plays, however, that lacked the richness that I had saw in other pieces. Some of these were due in part to text-specific problems that caused the play to not quite work. Others were written and directed well enough, but the acting felt awkward and contrived.
One example of this was the play “The Demon.” Although it was well acted, I felt the script was poorly thought-out. It did make a valiant effort to sound poetic, but there were so many loose ends that I felt were not brought together. The best part of the show, in fact, was a mute performance by Jacob Squire and Kelly Coombs as Adam and Eve. This was a very touching performance and I could see that the director (Rachel Cox) knew her craft well, but I wish she had picked a better piece.
Another play that I had a hard time with was “Benched.” While the script had its problems, I felt Shawn Allen’s portrayal was a little flat. It wasn’t awful, and I could see it easily becoming more concrete in later performances. Nevertheless, I wasn’t impressed.
Another problem piece was “The Music,” directed by Levi Brown. This play presents a very difficult question: how do you stage very tragic elements as a comedy? Brown solved this problem by choosing to stage it as a soap opera. While I love his decision, I felt he could have gone much further. There is only a certain amount of dramatic head turns that can be employed before the joke gets old. The play was also inhibited a bit by some of the acting, particularly since one of the actors (James Murphy) is treading the stage for the first time. I could see his raw talent, though, and hope to see him solidify his character as he gets used to performing.
I felt the most detached part of the night was due to the decision to include film projects as part of the production. One of the films (“Blue Sweater”) didn’t work that night and the other (“Deferred Pay”) had sound issues and—while humorous—felt much too long. Although I don’t object to film or its inclusion in theatre, I felt the choice to show these films interrupted the flow of the whole production
There were some great performances that I felt outweighed the problems of the other pieces. Mackenzie Seiler was wonderful in the play “Inner Thoughts.” She played an actress who is in a performance but confiding in the audience about her true feelings for the script and actors she works with. She was brilliant at conveying an honesty that could have easily been replaced with farce. She still made me laugh, but I felt a great connection with her too, feeling like her character was a real person.
The play “Toy Gun” was also a shining star of the evening. Heather Murdock’s direction was light and playful, and the chemistry between the three actors, (Ames Bell, Natalie Devine, and Jacob Porter) really made the piece come alive. Throughout the absurdity of the reality meets make-believe concept, I still felt connected to what was going on. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Another stand out performance was that of Jessica Gunson in the play “Blind Date.” Her physicality was wonderful and I felt like I could see her emotions even down to the way she moved her foot. She played a business woman who meets up with a surfer bum (Chase Ramsey) for a blind date and finds out some things about herself in the process. I loved seeing how her character changed as she went on through the story.
I felt, however, that the best show of the night was the play “Bottled.” Director Julie Suazo’s great knack for comedic timing came alive during this piece. A company party goes haywire as a fed up employee gets to finally say what she has on her mind. Jessamyn Svensson showed great emotional levels in playing overworked Beatrice very well and she had a great cast of characters supporting her.
Overall, this is a night of theatre not to be missed. It has something for everyone and despite a few minor bumps to be expected on opening night, I had a thoroughly good time.