SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, July 6, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — Every time I see “Saturday’s Voyeur” at Salt Lake Acting Company, I always feel that I am slightly behind the curve in understanding it.
My first “Voyeur” was in 2002, months after I moved to Utah from England. It was the one about the fictional gun-toting town of La Virgin, based of course, on La Verkin.
It may as well have been in a foreign language; I am not LDS and did not grow up here. However, because of the talent of the actors, who humanized all the insane roles they were given, and the brazen idiosyncrasies of the writing, I also found it hilarious.
“Saturday’s Voyeur,” for those who are unfamiliar, is SLAC’s annual satire of local politics, culture and religion. Written each year by Nancy Borgenicht and Allen Nevins, the musical comedy is now in in its 37th year.
The title is a play on “Saturday’s Warrior,” a musical written by Douglas Stewart and Lex de Azevedo, which was made into a film this year.
“Warrior” — written to appeal primarily to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — aspires to reverence. “Voyeur” does just the opposite.
Through the years, the comedy has ebbed and flowed for me. This year, there are some elements that were a treat, and others that fall embarrassingly flat.
There are three performances that stand out: Justin Ivie, as a Donald Trump-styled Heavenly Father, Robert Scott Smith as Joseph Smith and Annette Wright as Heavenly Mother. All three all “Voyeur” vets, and it’s evident they are aware that most of the success in their portrayals lies in creating fully-rounded characters with depth and motivation.
Ivie has the most juicy material to work with, but Smith and Wright are such fine actors that their depictions succeed as well.
I would have like to have seen the material they were given rounded out still more. The Trump jokes about “I love the [insert noun here] they are some of my best friends…” were funny for maybe the first five times, then I wanted to see the jokes go still further. What else is funny about Trump?
But to Ivie’s credit, it’s evident he’s worked on the humanity of the character, and the show comes alive when he enters for the first time.
Smith is given less of a full character — Joseph Smith is written as loving the ladies, and well, that’s pretty much it. But Smith is one of this town’s finest actors, and he has done his work here, making sure he connects with the audience and his character doesn’t become completely unlikable.
Wright’s Heavenly Mother is fairly three-dimensional and one of the more sympathetic characters in the show. Wright could wring a joke out of a semi-colon, but as with the other characters, I wanted her to be given a chance to use her impeccable comic timing even more.
In fact, I felt every one of the female characters be written with more depth. It was as if each had a label — “Gay Mom,” “Perky Cheerleader,” “Cute Ingenue” — but they weren’t developed beyond that. The actresses were fine, but the combination of one-note material and all of them other than Wright being new to “Voyeur” meant that none of the characters really had an arc.
The character that felt like the biggest misstep in the writing was, unfortunately, also the main role: Ned, the 17-year-old Mormon-wannabe son of two gay dads and two gay moms, who feels invisible in school. Tito Livas’ performance was as developed as it could be, considering he had to spend the vast majority of the show in an all-in-one purple Power Rangers-style suit that totally covered his face.
Maybe I missed something, but I was completely flummoxed about the reasoning for this costume choice. He wears the suit instead of Mormon garments, but I thought I heard at one point that it was so he could be invisible, but then I thought it was explained that it was so he could be recognized and stand out.
It felt as if the audience was really trying to go on Ned’s journey with him, but because some of the elements of his character were muddy, it was as if patrons had trouble identifying with his trajectory and motivations.
The band, named in the program as Kevin Mathie and The All Gentile Band, is top notch as usual, but fewer of the parody songs are stand-outs as in past years. They almost feel like they were afterthoughts, rather than furthering the story and driving the show.
The production values are fine without being outstanding. There’s not really much of a set, but the set pieces that are carried on and off serve their purpose. The lighting and costumes, by James M. Craig and Heidi Ortega, also serve their purpose without making a huge impression.
The direction and choreography of the show, by Cynthia Fleming, feels competent, in that it is certainly played for maximum laughs. But I wanted more.
I think the best thing Nevins and Borgenicht could do as the show approaches it’s 40th installment is to bring in new blood. The show has plenty of young actors, why not bring in fresh audiences and writing that will make the whole thing more vital?
Because “Voyeur” is SLAC’s fundraiser, there are no student tickets available. I think that should change. Inviting those with limited incomes to see the show I can’t think would make a huge difference to how much it rakes in, but it might force the team to consider what might speak to a different demographic.
I would also bring in a young writer or writers to work with the seasoned vets so, again, it might be explored what young people find funny, quirky or weird about Salt Lake City and the world.
At the moment, “Voyeur” is preaching to the choir, but if it could preach to a bigger, younger, hipper choir, why not give others a chance to sing?
“Saturday’s Voyeur” runs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., through Aug. 28. Tickets are $45 to $55, available by phone at 801-363-7522, or online here. SLAC is at 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City.