From the moment the audience settles in to their seats for Mesa Verde at Plan – B Theatre, it is clear that Matthew Ivan Bennett’s latest work is going to be raw and stripped to its essentials. What literally and figuratively sets the stage is the work of technical director Randy Rasmussen. Like Mesa Verde itself, a vast open desert, the scene is barren. A simple kiva and rust colored sun are all that occupy the space.
In the first few minutes sisters Tabitha (April Fossen) and Tamara (Christy Summerhays) are shown as polar opposites. After a long hike they have finally reached their destination, an ancient kiva that Tamara feels a connection to. Tamara is obviously in her element and appears as though she has just finished a familiar and easy afternoon stroll while Tabitha arrives out of breath and doubled over from the exertion. This is the first of many contrasts between the two. Tabitha enjoys urban settings and 24 Hour Fitness while Tamara finds the urban jungle claustrophobic and prefers to get her exercise by exploring the wilderness.
As the play unfolds Tabitha and Tamara confront the memory of their mother (played by Teresa Sanderson) and the way her illness has permeated and shaped their lives. It has been a decade since her death but the past has become relevant again as Tabitha battles ovarian cancer. Together they begin rehashing the past and pieces of a tumultuous upbringing create a picture of troubled adulthood for both sisters. Flashbacks create a background, and scenes flow seamlessly, from the sisters’ conversation in the kiva to interactions with their mother, and sometimes painful moments with lost lovers, also played by Sanderson. Her ability to morph from mother to significant other brilliantly highlights the mother’s role in shaping her daughter’s dysfunctional relationships.
Tabitha and Tamara’s mother fought a painful losing battle with an illness that slowly chipped away at her happiness. Chronic pain makes it impossible for her to enjoy simple pleasures like playing the piano and she deteriorates to the point of being nearly immobile. The frustration brought on by her continual decline results in depression and volatile mood swings that frighten her daughters. While it’s clear the mother wasn’t Donna Reed she also wasn’t Joan Crawford from Mommie Dearest. The interactions we see between Tabitha, Tamara, and their mother don’t convincingly lay the groundwork for all the emotional baggage they carry in to their later years. And yet it does seem to be a universal truth that everything from small slights to severe childhood injuries are something we carry for the rest of our lives.
Sometimes those wounds never heal because we keep picking at them. Other times they scar over and we pretend not to notice them but they’re the first thing we see when we look in the mirror. Best case scenario, those scars become a part of us and we accept them as part of the landscape. Mesa Verde is an introspective play that asks us to look at those scars, evaluate how well they are healing, and offer us hope that even the deepest wounds do heal.
Mesa Verde is at the Studio Theatre of Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center from February 24 – March 6. Less than 100 tickets are left. For tickets call 801.355.ARTS or visit planbtheatre.org.
Dale Thompson has a B.A. in Liberal Arts from The Evergreen State College and an Masters degree in communications from Westminster College. Her writing career includes work for a local theatre, journalism in Park City, and freelance contributions for various nonprofit organizations.