Things weren’t actually that weird on Wednesday night at the Rose Wagner for Plan-B’s final preview of The Weird Play by Jenifer Nii. There was a fairly normal set—a spare white room—the normal trio of actors and all of us gathered, very normally, in anticipation, ready for things to get all weird, man.
But instead we were astonished.
“Astonish” is one of the many luscious and thick words playwright Nii, wields with power—less like a sword in the pen-is-mightier sense and more how a chef deftly employs a whisk to mix ingredients into a surprising dish that you hold in your mouth in sensory meditation.
Let’s start with what goes on. A character merely called One (Susana Florence) awakens on the spartan set, a whitewashed home—a model of domestic perfection, heaven perhaps. Two (Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin) her lover, or her god, or her angel, brings her back into life from where ever she’s been before. Are we in Eden? Are we in Hell? Or did One just meet her sugar mamma? It is deliberately not clear. Nii’s play is a dense consideration of love—love between human and the more-things-in-heaven-and-Earth-dreamt-of-in-our-philosophy love, the love between two people, love of self and the opposite side of rejection and loss, discovery and loss. A third character, Three (April Fossen) joins the duo and disrupts the Wa. Is she a snake in Eden? Affirmation of self-determination? Both?
The Weird Play walks a high wire throughout its 70-minute performance time. Every movement the players make, every line they utter is careful and deliberate, slow and thoughtful. The production is a guided meditation that invites us into deep, still waters. There are some on-the-nose metaphors: Two (the character) displays the images of hearts of past visitors to her realm on the wall. She also tempts One with a reward of angelic wings that descend from above. (Stagecraft-wise the actual wings were a little clunky. I bet this is where Plan-B wishes they had Angels in America dough.) One unpacks a knapsack of her baggage—booze, pills, etc. But these moments are necessary skeletal, foundational pieces that allow Nii to fill them in with sinew, muscle, skin and lighter, more gossamer elements.
It is enlightening. Anyone who has gone through a sad parting with someone or something they loved will be moved by Nii’s exploration of these complicated moments in our lives. There is a speech at about the 35-minute mark, by One, that perfectly lays out the internal monologue we’ve all gone through as we consider a leaving or a new beginning.
The Weird Play is too coarsely titled for what it actually is: a deep soulful exploration of human struggle on a minute and complex level. I suspect that when Nii got around to coming up with a title she may have already used up her formidable arsenal words.
The Weird Play continues through March 11, 2018 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center’s Studio Theatre, 138 W. 300 South in Salt Lake City. Tickets are sold out but Plan-B’s waitlist is a good bet. A pre-paid wait list opens up at Rose Wagner box office one hour before show time. You must be there, in person, to get on the wait list. Go hang at Squatters or something and then check back five minutes before show time. Showtimes and more details here.