I have just recently recognized Wasatch Theatre Company as a bold little company. The productions aren’t flashy, but as I’ve been welcomed to the two full-length shows of their 2008-09 season, I must applaud the small group for choosing unusual and little-known plays.
Earlier this year WTC staged Boys in the Band, which honestly, they bit off more than they could chew — Matt Crowley’s drama about homosexual life in the 1960s is embittered and intense; the characterizations convoluted; and limitless, weighted dialogue — it was mostly underplayed, weakening the punch the story should have packed. The talent was there, but the chomp was not.
WTC’s second selection of the season is a bizarre comedy, The Sugar Bean Sisters, by Nathan Sanders, which had debuted off-broadway in 1995.
Two “spinster” sisters live on a sugar cane field in Sugar Bean, Fla. Secluded and alone, the sisters have had only each other … and well, the Mormon church … after the missionaries sucked them in before the Seventh Day Adventists had a chance.
Willie Mae Nettle (Jennifer Van Dyke) is the quintesstential product of Mormonism — gaudy floral dresses cut below the knee, an abhorrence to foul language, a bad wig and an addiction to Dr. Pepper. She’s searching for her Mormon prince charming and sees him clearly in her local Bishop (Rich Malatesta). Faye Nettle (vicki Pugmire), on the other hand, didn’t quite take to the faith as her sister — probably because it had been aliens who sucked her up 20 years ago, and now she is quite hopeful they will return for her. Faye is less ladylike than Willie Mae: She speaks with a foul mouth dirtied more by a Southern drawl, dresses like a farmboy with a large toolbelt hanging on her hips and has a lesbian-size liking for Disney World.
A mysterious stranger, in an even more mysterious outfit and who calls herself Videllia (Sallie Cooper), comes to visit the sisters. And over the course of an evening, Willie Mae walks the proverbial aisle with the Bishop on the way to visit a sick neighbor; Faye plots a murder; Videllia reveals a secret that could lead her to the riches of a grapefruit fortune; and the calling upon of the Reptile Woman (Mary Lee Anderton) leads to the jolting destruction of an outhouse.
Pugmire and Van Dyke make both the sisters likable; their banter both witty and sisterly. Anderton is adequate as the Reptile Woman — what with the Diana Ross hairdo, goth boots and pounding a heavy wood walking staff, how could she go wrong. Though Malatesta seems more genuinely creepy for the part.
Director Jim Martin hopes to reveal, through The Sugar Bean Sisters, the many intricacies of human emotion within family obligation, spirituality and self identification. To many, he will succeed, and to the others he will purely entertain.
The Sugar Bean Sisters has all the makings of the odd, often outlandish, Southern-style storytelling: gators, flying cats, black arts, booze, ghosts and UFOs. All the makings for a great sugar rush.
‘The Sugar Bean Sisters’ runs through May 17, Studio Theatre, Rose Wagner Center , 138 W. Broadway. Tickets $15, 801-355-ARTS or arttix.org.