Let’s say you’re a single, 45-year-old woman in a religion where people marry young and procreate often. Now you’re about to age out of your LDS “mid-singles” ward, and on top of that you’re still haunted by an earthquake that compounded the isolation you felt during a global pandemic.
That’s the backdrop for Iris Salazar’s Aftershock, a play that might or might not be about loneliness.
“And when did you start feeling lonely?” asks Dr. Love Dearest, the therapist/reality TV host who shares the stage with Teah, a “non-conservative, full-figured, Morena Mexican who happens to be a virgin.”
“Me?” answers Teah. “I’m not talking about me.”
Teah is the not-always-reliable narrator of Aftershock, which opens April 7 and runs through April 17 at Plan-B Theatre (with streaming April 13-17).
Playwright Salazar is also a full-figured, Mexican, celibate LDS woman, who will turn 43 this month. But the play — its details and its occasional feeling of panic — is not autobiographical, she says. “It’s 50 percent my life, 50 percent embellished.”
She was inspired to write Aftershock in part by social media posts by unmarried LDS men and women who felt isolated during the pandemic. It’s also a response to statements at church from women who wondered if they were still single because they’d “messed up something” in their lives — a sentiment Salazar disagrees with. Her own life, she says, is rich with family, work and friends.
In a theater community that at best is often dismissive of the LDS Church, Salazar says she wanted to show what it’s like to be a woman with solid religious beliefs.
Aftershock begins with Teah — Dorotea Angelica Maria Garza Gonzalez — arriving for her very first therapist appointment with Dr. Dearest, only to discover that the doctor has been delayed. As a metronome ticks away, Teah falls into a trance in which she suddenly finds herself on a reality TV show called The Bachelor’s Matchmaker, where she is encouraged to audition by telling the story of her life.
In her actual life, Salazar has never been to a therapist and has only watched a couple of episodes of any bachelor/bachelorette shows, and in fact prefers true crime podcasts (which, she laughs, is one reason she stays away from dating sites). She did once work in a building where to get to the elevator each morning she had to walk by a matchmaker’s office, but she was never tempted to go in. In 2019 ,she sent an application to the man who posted those “LDS Millionaire looking for his wife” billboards along I-15, but noted in her resume that she is a “liberal Mormon who doesn’t want to have kids.” She says she knew there would be plenty of “cute, blonde, very stereotypical Mormon women” in the applicant pool. “I just did it for the heck of it. I was fully aware I wasn’t the right type.”
Salazar wrote her first play — about a man looking for a trophy wife — when she was a student at East High in the 1990s, and eventually got a degree in performing arts set design at the University of Utah. She worked for a decade at a juvenile detention center, and currently manages client relations at a local bank.
As a member of Plan-B’s Playwrights of Color Writing Workshop, she wrote American Pride, which was part of Plan-B’s 2019 “. . . Of Color” collection of short plays. Her first iteration of the play that has turned into Aftershock was a light-hearted piece called “Single Sisters Society,” critiqued by one of her colleagues as “cute in a Jane Austen kind of way” — so in rewrites Salazar says she tried to veer away from “happy and perky.” When she eventually realized that her main character had made an appointment with a therapist, she thought “Uh-oh, now I have to get personal.” The resulting script is a straightforward recitation of recollections that include drunken roommates and a sexual assault. And the memory of an earthquake.
“I was home, sleeping when the earthquake started,” Teah tells Dr. Dearest near the end of Aftershock. “I really thought I was going to die that day, all alone in a king-sized bed. The quake was strong and fast, but in those six seconds I felt so alone, and all the loneliness that came with that filled me. I imagined that if I died, it would be days before anyone found my body.”
In Salazar’s real life, she confesses with her easy laugh, she slept through the Salt Lake valley 5.7 magnitude quake of 2020, woke up when she heard her mother screaming, heard her brother taking care of the situation, checked in with her siblings by video, and went right back to sleep.
World premiere of Aftershock by Iris Salazar, Plan-B Theatre, Salt Lake City, Apr. 7-22.
Elaine Jarvik is a Utah playwright. Her most recent play, “Four Women Talking About the Man Under the Sheet,” was produced by the Salt Lake Acting Company in October, 2021.