I had to do some research on playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb not only because I had never heard of him before, but also because I was intrigued by his mind after I saw a Salt Lake Acting Company production of his genuinely thoughtful and yet hysterical play boom. I can’t remember the last time I had seen such an outside-the-box kind of play — uncannily insightful, outlandishly poignant — an oxymoronic dream.
Nachtrieb is a gay 30-something San Franciscan whose writing style rests mainly on wild, free-thought, according to an article in American Theatre Magazine. Margot Melcon wrote: “Nachtrieb writes plays with an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach; he throws a lot at the wall to see what will stick;” and “ … he is turning out a stream of bright, focused, bitingly witty and deeply human new plays for the American stage.” I couldn’t agree more, and yes I have only seen this one play, but that’s how affected I was by it.
Salt Lake Acting Company, like I, was also a Nachtrieb virgin — this being their first Nachtrieb production, and they give it due justice, along with that SLAC flair that so many have come to love. Performed in the intimate Chapel Theatre on a simple set, designed by SLAC Executive Producer Keven Myhre — a timpani drum, a makeshift monitoring unit, a couch, some exposed piping, a fish tank and a row of lockers — the play is a “weird” comedy that begs the question “why are we here?” It’s chalk-full of inventive ideas, quick wit and expletives.
A young, eccentric science-geek ( more accurately, marine biologist), Jules (David Fetzer), runs an ad seeking a fleeting sexual encounter. Jo (Emily Burnworth), a journalism student, responds to the ad and meets Jules at his underground lab/abode. Jo’s eagerness to bed Jules is expressed in a vigilante manner that forces Jules to admit he’s a homosexual … although he’s never slept with a woman or a man.
“You don’t have gay eyes,” Jo says.
“I’m wearing contacts,” Jules replies.
Jo comes to realize she’s been lured to Jules’ love-den under false pretenses. His intense belief that a comet will soon strike the earth, obliterating all mankind (because of Dorothy, the fish) conjures a plan, or obsession — that is oddly bound for failure — to re-populate the planet.
To help the play’s plot is a zealous commentator (or tour guide) named Barbara (Holly Fowers) who not only offers insights and explanations, but also runs sound effects and lighting cues.
The role of Jules is dowsed in neurotic, comic dialogue and Fetzer doesn’t miss a beat. Burnworth is solid as the down-to-earth Jo. Fowers is hilarious in her exasperated monologues that include unique and animated gestures. In particular, Barbara’s conception monologue leaves you in tears of laughter … if you’re not easily offended. Director Robin Wilks-Dunn tightly weaves all the elements of this intelligent play, from the concepts of evolution and fate to the concepts of love and free will.
The play runs through Dec. 5, Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North. Call 801-363-7522 or visit saltlakeactingcompany.org.