SALT LAKE CITY — This weekend the Salt Lake Acting Company produced its first ever Fearless Fringe Festival: a weekend of three original shows by local artists producing new and experimental works. The show I attended was entitled Yoga Confidential: A Rat Bastard’s Inside Guide to Yoga & Surrounding Areas, written by Stephen Brown. Brown is the founder of SB Dance, a non-profit dance company based out of the Rose Wagner Center in Salt Lake and has extensive dance credentials with professional companies as well as a degree in molecular genetics from Colombia University.
Yoga Confidential is a semi-autobiographical piece where we follow Stephen Brown himself on a quest to discover “the true meaning of yoga in America.” Brown stars in the show alongside Daniel Beecher and Tracie Merrill who play a variety of roles, including 1/3 of Stephen. Stephen’s quest is initiated by a visit from Merrill playing both the ghost of yoga past and the ghost of yoga future (according to the script they were understaffed) and what follows is an episodic journey through the different forms of yoga and how they interface with American pop culture.
All in all the play is good. I was worried at the onset of the piece that I would miss a lot due to my general ignorance pertaining to the yoga phenomenon, but the script explains things simply and humorously so anyone can enjoy it. The characters were in a state of constant fluidity and switched from one role to another instantaneously, so each actor played around 4-5 roles according to my count.
The script had me laughing quite hard several times and I definitely enjoyed it, but at the same time it was apparent that this was a new work. There were several moments which dragged on too long and consequently lost some of their humor. I felt that the overall focus of the piece got lost somewhere in the middle and was not regained until the final moments of the piece. One particular moment when the text lacked clarity was during the Toxic yoga mantra sequence when the pessimistic Toxic Yoga Guru broke into a sort of freestyle rap. I thought the idea was clever, but the rap lasted a good 5 minutes and went on so long that I felt myself, along with much of the audience, disinterested in the less-than-precise hip hop parody.
Another moment where I felt the focus was completely lost, almost to the point of pain, was when the character Rob (Beecher) went on some sort of hallucinogenic trip caused by eating too many Altoids and went to the publisher of Yoga Journal in Las Vegas and uncovered some sort of murderous conspiracy against everything good in the world. Included in the scene was a Scooby Doo-eqsue chase sequence and the murder of a TV show host. It was very confusing, wasn’t overly hilarious and the director allowed the sequence to run far too long. The sequence did very little to further the plot and left me with the taste of stale, poorly timed humor in my mouth. Despite these obvious flaws, however, the script is in a good place and now needs some editing to refine it even more so it can reach the potential that it has.
All three of the actors gave a good performance, but they each definitely had moments of slippage as well. Some of their commitment to different characters felt forced rather than honest and some jokes were clearly being played simply for laughs. Also a handful of dropped and botched lines caused moments to lose their intended flavor. I do not know what sort of acting experience these three had (there were no bios listed other than Brown’s), and perhaps it was just an off night, but the acting was not necessarily on par with that of previous SLAC productions I’ve seen. Though maybe that’s just part of the fring
In the end, Yoga Confidential is a good show. It’s funny, it’s witty and its mode of storytelling is unique and interesting. I’m very glad I was able to attend the Fearless Fringe Festival and I applaud all those involved in such a terrific endeavor for up and coming works. As ever, it was an enjoyable night at SLAC.