Talking Wales III In two previous collections of monologues for Utah Contemporary Theatre, playwright and Salt Lake Acting Company dramaturg Mike Dorrell has created vivid individual character studies drawn from his native Wales. In this third installment, he pulls the histories of his four characters together. Sandra (Kathryn Atwood) steps on to a bus in a small Welsh town to find that the driver is an ex-flame named Brent. After Sandra recalls her teenage fling with Brent 20 years earlier, Brent himself (Dan Larrinaga) takes the stage to provide his own perspective on those same events, including his role in a romantic triangle involving Sandra’s sister Annette and the town’s wealthy minor celebrity, an ex-wrestler scrapyard owner named Paul De Paulo. And once Brent has his say, both Paul (Geoff Hansen) and Annette (Dee Macaluso) get a chance to reflect on how those long-ago events have continued to impact their lives.
As was the case with the first two Talking Wales productions, a makeshift production space creates the kind of intimacy that allows the actors to look you directly in the eye while speaking; don’t expect to attend and fade anonymously into the audience. That sense of carrying on a personal interaction only accentuates the actors’ ability to bring the characters to life. Atwood does lovely work both speaking in the present tense and re-creating Sandra’s flirtatious teen self; Larrinaga finds a sympathetic center to a working-class guy making the best of a life without his true love; and Macaluso sparkles as the free-thinking artist comfortable with her choices. But Hansen delivers a magnificent whirlwind of a performance, combining bluster with regret to capture the soul of a small pond’s big fish as precisely as his lemon-yellow jacket does.
Together, the four actors don’t merely create individually vivid people, but they provide a portrait of an entire community. Dorrell uses these four characters to describe not just something uniquely Welsh, but a quality of every small town: the inability to escape every mistake or heartbreak of your past, forcing you to come to terms with what made you who you are. After three installments, it’s clear that Dorrell isn’t just talking Wales; he’s talking human.
Paint Your Wagon Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Camelot—Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe created some of the most beloved musicals in the history of Broadway. And at Pioneer Theatre Company, you get a chance to see a brand new one.
All right, it’s not entirely new. Paint Your Wagon originally appeared in 1951, and tunes like “They Call the Wind Maria” are already part of the musical theater canon. But thanks to David Rambo’s brand-new book—getting one of its pre-Broadway tests in Salt Lake City—it’s really a matter of the same songs in a different context. The setting is still 1852 California, where widower Ben Rumson (Dennis Parlato) and his I-am-16-going-on-17-year-old daughter Jennifer (Emily Rabon Hall) are leading a group of prospectors to California gold country. Jennifer falls for a young Mexian named Julio (Enrique Acevedo) with his own dreams of striking it rich, but a big lug of a suitor named Bull (Mark Mineart) is determined to have Jennifer for himself.
Structurally, the show has been greatly improved by Rambo’s tweaks. The love story takes a central role earlier, and some of the less politically correct elements—including a subplot in which a Mormon polygamist sells one of his wives—have been axed. Even those with no knowledge of the show’s original form, either from the stage or the fairly hideous film version—might be able to guess that Ben’s romantic interest, actress Lily Shakespeare (Anne Stewart Mark), is a new creation. Her self-aware theatricality doesn’t feel particularly Lerner-esque, but she’s an entertaining addition even if she sometimes feels pasted into the story.
The Lerner and Loewe songs like “Wand’rin’ Star” and “In Between” are still delightful, but if there’s a flaw in director Charles Morey’s staging, it’s the way some of those songs are delivered. In between some of Patti D’Beck’s wonderfully choreographed full-cast production numbers—including a percussive second-act opener that blows the roof off the joint—are tunes where someone simply stands and sings. That’s not necessarily a problem when it’s Acevedo showing off his lovely tenor, but Parlato and Hall’s voices both occasionally disappear into the orchestrations, making for dead spots that should otherwise provide either humor or emotion.
There is ample humor—thanks to Mark, as well as Max Robinson, whose PTC clowning has become so distinctive that his name should take on adjective status—and terrific energy in the rest of the production. It’s a unique opportunity to see theater history given a twist, before even New York audiences have had that chance. It may not be Camelot, but it proves to be a pretty congenial spot.
TALKING WALES III @ Utah Contemporary Theatre, Patrick Moore Gallery, 511 W. 200 South. Sept. 26-Oct. 6. 886-3019
PAINT YOUR WAGON @ Pioneer Theatre Company, 400 S. 1300 East, Sept. 28–Oct. 13. 581-6961, PioneerTheatre.org cw