Mesa Verde 

Love, Theatrical Style: Familial relations and romance anchor three new productions.

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Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett has described Mesa Verde as his most personal play. Sometimes, the most personal work is the hardest to get just right.

There is definitely plenty that is right about Plan-B Theatre Company’s production. The spare set by Randy Rasmussen proves surprisingly versatile as we meet sisters Tabitha (April Fossen) and Tamara (Christy Summerhays) on a hiking trip in Colorado’s Mesa Verde State Park. The strain between them isn’t just fish-out-of-water stuff as New Yorker Tabitha deals with earth-mama/activist Tamara on her own turf. There’s a long history of tension between them—partly stemming from their relationship with their deceased mother (Teresa Sanderson) and partly exacerbated by Tabitha’s own illness and Tamara’s ongoing civil disobedience.

The performances are strong, with the characters moving fluidly between present and flashbacks and playing nicely nuanced versions of their younger selves. Bennett also effectively nails the way family members can push one another’s buttons without even trying. But he’s also trying to fold these interpersonal dynamics into some Big Ideas: about the collapse of civilizations, and about differing definitions of what it means to “fight” an illness. And Bennett wrangles with these issues largely through arguments between Tamara and Tabitha—“theater of recriminations” stuff that, frankly and idiosyncratically, is one of those things that pushes my buttons.

There’s enough compelling emotional content here that Mesa Verde can be considered a qualified success. The factor that limits its effectiveness, though, can be distilled into the way Sanderson repeatedly interjects comments into Tamara and Tabitha’s dialogues as a mystical goddess figure: At times, the intriguing conversations are overcomplicated by the introduction of one too many voices.

MESA VERDE
Plan-B Theatre Company
Rose Wagner Center
138 W. Broadway
801-355-2787
Through March 6
$20
PlanBTheatreCompany.org

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