Omnibus collections of any kind—short films, short stories, short plays—often feel only as strong as their weakest link. And then there are those pleasant rare exceptions where there really isn’t a weak link, and where the individual segments build on and inform one another to the point where it feels fully cohesive.
That’s the dynamic at work in 3, Plan-B Theatre Company’s triptych production of three 30-minute one-act plays by Eric Samuelsen, all performed by the three-woman repertory cast of Stephanie Howell, Teresa Sanderson and Christy Summerhays. In Bar & Kell, two women in a predominantly Mormon neighborhood (Sanderson and Summerhays) take it upon themselves to make their new neighbor, a high-school dropout unmarried mother (Howell) a “fixer-upper” project. Community Standard focuses on three women serving as jurors in a Utah County obscenity trial, with one Mormon housewife (Howell) shaken unexpectedly by the experience. And Duets casts Summerhays as a new member of an LDS ward, with Sanderson and Howell as established members trying to coax her and her husband into greater participation.
Cheryl Ann Cluff directs with a light hand that punches up the humorous material, even as much of the thematic material ventures into darker territory. She crafts a great sequence during Bar & Kell as the three women rotate through a series of positions between quick lighting blackouts, conveying both a long passage of days and the sameness to the routine of those days. And the three cast members are all tremendous, showing their versatility sometimes even within individual segments, as when Sanderson transforms herself into a sullen 16-year-old in the middle of Duets.
But as effective as each segment is individually, they’re even more powerful after their cumulative effect. Samuelsen uses these three plays to dig into distinct facets of the faÃ§ade he perceives among many faithful Mormon women: the need to project to the world a sense that their lives are blissful perfection, and the psychological strain they experience when the people and circumstances they encounter rattle that carefully constructed image. With profound sympathy for his characters—even those who might seem like busybodies or prudes—Samuelsen and the Plan-B team turn 3 into a heartbreaking look at what happens when Saints have a hard time confronting messy humanity.
Rose Wagner Center
138 W. 300 South
Through April 6