Reports of the death of storytelling have been greatly exaggerated. Tobin Atkinson’s Infantry Monologues constitutes some of the finest storytelling I’ve seen on any Salt Lake City stage.
The work, presented by Atkinson’s Meat & Potato Theatre company, is a series of character monologues. In “Coyoteway,” a former Stanford-grad lawyer (Tobin Atkinson, pictured), held for questioning in a serial-murder case, tries to talk his way out police custody. In “Use of Force: An Allegory,” Army medic Olivia Valorosa (Deena Marie Manzanares, who moonlights as a videographer for City Weekly), engaged against an unexpected enemy while stationed on the front lines in the Middle East, describes her experiences to a sleeping bunkmate. And, in “2CC,” Joshua Larkin (Jay Perry), a would-be missionary in a not-too-distant-future dystopia, answers to an interrogation conducted by sinister authorities.
Three monologues are delivered by three unrelated characters, who nevertheless share a common experience: Each individual’s expectations were violated upon the discovery of a hidden reality. All are transformed, by the same ideals that led to that discovery, into agents of previously unthinkable acts. Yet, at no time does any character abandon his or her human motivations.
It’s exciting to watch the actors stand up to this challenging text, which requires a virtuosic range of emotional tones and vocal characterizations. The multilayered performances are so pitch-perfect, I found myself wondering if Atkinson, with his Army background, may have somehow managed both to impose a military discipline upon the cast and crew, and nurture its emotional creativity.
Note: Discipline applies to intermissions, too, as I discovered. They are a brisk five minutes, as opposed to those languid 15-minutes-or-whenever-everybody-gets-back intermissions Utah audiences may be used to. Bottom line: Don’t dawdle!
Infantry Monologues @ Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. 300 South, 355-ARTS, May 28-30, 8 p.m.; matinee May 31, 2 p.m. MeatAndPotato.org