At first glance, Eric Samuelsen’s remarkable new play Borderlands appears to be about honesty—honesty with others and honesty with oneself. But it’s actually about something even trickier.
The setup makes that initial interpretation easy to understand. At a used-car lot in Provo, salesman Dave (Kirt Bateman) decides to tell a customer, Gail (Stephanie Howell), the truth about all the cars on his lot. Sure, he’s kind of using his unexpected forthrightness as a ploy to hit on her, but he’s also trying to change his own life after some very bad choices left him forced to rely on the charity of his embittered sister, Phyllis (Teri Cowan), who owns the lot. Of course, he’s the only Mormon—well, excommunicated Mormon—in Utah County who doesn’t walk the straight and narrow, church-approved path. Right?
Samuelsen isn’t simply out to skewer Mormon hypocrisy, though. His four principal characters—Gail’s gay nephew, Brian (Topher Rasmussen), eventually comes to work on the car lot—revolve around one another in an exploration of the arbitrary lines adherents to any religion set up in their own minds between acceptable unorthodoxy and outright heresy. Is it “better” to be a believer who isn’t doing all the right outward things, or an outwardly faithful follower who doesn’t really believe? And where can all these varying perspectives intersect in a place of grace?
Terrific performances—Bateman, in particular, delivers some of his best work ever—provide even more fragile humanity to a story that’s both uniquely Utah and achingly universal.