Funny Business | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Funny Business 

Three engaging comedies light up Utah theater stages.

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Outside Mullingar
When Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley writes a romantic comedy, it rarely fits the conventional perception of that term. Anyone who has seen the Shanley-written Moonstruck or Joe Versus the Volcano has already gotten a strong sense of that.

You might not necessarily see it coming from the set-up for Outside Mullingar, set on two neighboring farms in contemporary Killucan, Ireland. Widower Tom Reilly (Max Robinson) and his 42-year-old, never-married son Anthony (Tom O'Keefe) live beside Aoife Muldoon (Sybil Lines) and her 30-something, also-never-married daughter Rosemary (Amy Bodnar). And plenty of history exists between the families, at times antagonistic but also built on never-expressed emotions.

Julie Kramer's simple production keeps the focus on the four actors, and a typically charming script by Shanley that offers plenty of laughs while we're allowed to watch the characters evolve. There's an unfortunate tendency for some of the punch lines to be delivered as the performers turn toward the audience—as though anticipating the laughter—but there's a genuineness to the interactions between them that delivers some surprisingly raw emotion.

That doesn't mean one particular turn won't initially seem like a left-field bit of weirdness—except that Shanley and this cast employ it beautifully as a metaphor for people who seem convinced that their imperfections will forever doom them to isolation. The charms in Outside Mullingar come from the idea that it's never too late to let the people in your life know what's really in your heart, even if that means revealing every last crazy bit of yourself. —Scott Renshaw


The Flick
In the first act of Annie Baker's The Flick, movie usher Avery (Avery Franklin, pictured below) sits in an empty theater on the phone—presumably with his therapist—explaining a recent dream he had: In order to enter heaven, he has to find a movie that will get him out of purgatory. After scanning hundreds of movies—most of them with pretentious-sounding titles—it's an old VHS copy of Honeymoon in Vegas that grants him access to the afterlife. Even Avery is perplexed by such an odd cinematic choice.

The seemingly insignificant moment establishes the tone for The Flick. Set in the last 35mm-projected movie theater in Massachusetts, this slice of life production follows Avery, fellow usher Sam (David A. Boice), and projectionist Rose (Kaylee Lloyd) as they navigate the mundane aspects of their jobs interspersed with tidbits of their personal lives. While this gives each character a small arc, it's the movie banter between Sam and Avery that's most entertaining to watch. From making fun of Avatar and The Tree of Life to playing "6 degrees of separation," Avery proves he knows movies.

Director Trent Cox helps the trio—along with Skylar/The Dreaming Man (Alex Van Dyke)—capture the clumsy, superficial conversation often spoken among colleagues. Franklin, in particular, shines in this role, especially when playing opposite Lloyd. And with such a small cast, it's easy to relate to these characters. As Avery would probably attest, The Flick is no Pulp Fiction, but it's still really good. —Missy Bird

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Buyer & Cellar
It's been a while since Salt Lake City audiences have had a chance to see Aaron Swenson—whose electrifying Hedwig and the Angry Inch rocked local theaters in productions spanning 2003-12—single-handedly take command of a stage. In case there was any reason for doubt: He still knows how to do it.

Jonathan Tolins' let-there-be-no-question-that-this-is-fictionalized tale was inspired by a quirky real-life footnote: a coffee-table book written by Barbra Streisand about her lavish Malibu estate, which showed a basement designed like a quaint boutique shopping mall. The speculative premise imagines under-employed Los Angeles actor Alex (Swenson, pictured) answering an ad to serve as the sole employee of that "mall," maintaining the pretense that it's an actual shopping destination whenever "The Lady of the House" comes calling.

Swenson takes on multiple roles throughout the 95 minute show—including Alex's boyfriend, Streisand's personal assistant and, of course, Barbra herself—and it's a tour-de-force of physical acting. The voice changes are almost incidental to the way director Teresa Sanderson and Swenson find a single trademark gesture, like the assistant's world-weary over-the-shoulder glare, to convey a change of character. Add the hilarious exchanges in Tolins' script, and Buyer & Cellar becomes almost criminally entertaining.

At times, it feels that Tolins is reaching for something more profound about the slack that we cut celebrities and how easy it is to be dazzled by star power. The play may be moderately successful on that level, but there are better reasons to attend. Swenson's performance—abetted by the intimacy of Sanderson's cabaret-style staging—proves that some star power is worth being dazzled by. —Scott Renshaw

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