SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, March 24, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — There has been a viral video shared this week of things that confound expectations — a cake being divided asymmetrically, two packs of cards shuffled together then partly scattered and dropped, a paper star being cut out and having one of its points cut off.
I was reminded of the video when grappling to find ways to describe Morag Shepherd’s “Not One Drop,” playing through April 2 at Plan-B Theatre Company, at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center downtown.
Shepherd is a Utah playwright who grew up in Scotland and England, then attended Brigham Young University, and wrote her master’s thesis on absurdist playwright Edward Albee.
“Not One Drop” is influenced by this Theater of the Absurd tradition, a post–World War II designation for plays written by a number of mostly European playwrights in the late 1950s, as well as one for the style of theater which has evolved from their work. Think Albee, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, and plays such as “Waiting for Godot” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
Their work focused largely on the idea of existentialism and expressed what happens when human existence has no meaning and therefore all communication breaks down, in fact alerting their audiences to pursue the opposite: purpose. Hence, reminding one of the viral video I mentioned earlier.
In the case of “Not One Drop,” things happen in the play, which might or might not explore a fall, a push or a murder, as it dives into questions of intimacy, identity, power and death.
Sounds elusive? It is.
Shepherd wrote about the work in a blog on Plan-B’s website:
“The nature of the relationship of the characters is constantly shifting and slipping — are they sisters, friends, lovers, enemies? And ultimately it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are so close that they slip into each other’s identities. They mirror each other, and then their identities are, at times, completely mirrored back on themselves.”
In the stage directions, Aidan, played by Colleen Baum, is described as “older,” and Rowe, Latoya Cameron, is “younger.” For actors, a two-handed play is going to be a beast to learn at the best of times, but in this case, Baum and Cameron take on a practically Herculean task.
The play is a lean 65 minutes, but that’s 65 minutes of dense dialogue that bends, slips, drips, seeps and flows. Both actors do a tremendous job suffusing the language with a relatable quality. We know we are watching something intriguing, even as the most rational part of our brains chaffs against the lack of obvious trajectory.
But that slightly slippery quality also allows us to be more attuned to the production as a wider life experience. The taut direction by Jerry Rapier has a meditative, dance-like quality, while the sound, costume and lighting design, by Cheryl Cluff, Phillip R. Lowe, and Jesse Portillo respectively are deliberately abstract but effective.
The set design is a standout. Dan Evans is making his Plan-B debut, after designing both theater and event/installation projects elsewhere. His set is made up of a white, flat, square playing space with a smaller square hollowed out in the middle, and lines and lines of paracord reaching out from the edges of the square up over the audiences heads. During one section that is depicted in the pitch darkness, the paracord slowly begins to glow, a rather magical, and deeply visually pleasing treat.
All in all, watching “Not One Drop” is both a pleasure and sometimes, deliberately, a challenge. As someone with both OCD and anxiety, there are times when my brain felt panicky, wanting more order. But that’s also the intention of this genre of theater, and all in all, it’s a great pleasure to see this bold piece, which wouldn’t be out of place in the West End or off-Broadway.
“Not One Drop” plays at the Studio Theatre of the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, at 138 W. 300 South, through April 2. Shows are Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.
The play marks the third production created in partnership with the David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists. Tickets are $10-$20 with extremely limited availability by clicking here or calling 801-355-ARTS.