Lighting adds a lot to a play and it simply wasn’t there opening night at Salt Lake Acting Company’s world premiere of Elaine Jarvik’s “Two Stories.” There were two interruptions in the production due to a blown fuse before it was decided that, well, the show must go on. And so it did, with just a steady onstage glow. No spotlights, no fades, no blackouts.
And it was a two-thumbs -up offering, superbly acted, seeming perhaps a bit overlong, more due to waits for lighting repairs than to the complexity of the absorbing dialogue. The final quarter, however, was loaded with (too many?) issues, all resolved — though not neatly, to the playwright’s credit.
Elaine Jarvik spent 27 years as a journalist at the Deseret News watching technology gradually invade the newsroom, which ultimately cost many thousands of jobs in the industry. Since retiring (sort of), she has written several fine plays, this one about Jodi Wolcott, in a struggle to hold on to her position as an old-school reporter at a paper now requiring multiple web hits on her articles in order to keep her job. Jodi stumbles on a terrific story – that of Bashira, the newly immigrated grandmother of the Pakistani family that has just moved in next door.
But Amir, Bashira’s son, is angry — horrified that his family’s privacy has been breached in the press.
Then Amir and his wife decide to remodel their middle-class home into a giant upper-class “monster” (as Jodi’s husband Kevin terms it) that will cut off the Wolcott’s sunlight and mountain views.
Rocks get thrown in the night and hate-crime charges filed. When Jodi’s young, competitive colleague (perfectly played by a fiery Elena Dern) arrives to cover the incident, Jodi finds herself in the Masori’s position: having her own story usurped and told by the media.
These are contemporary hot-button issues even here in Happy Valley: the right of the public to know vs. individual privacy; preserving the flavor of a neighborhood vs. someone’s right to build their dream home; a growing diversity in population and how we respond to it.
And there are some rich moments anyone who has worked at a newspaper will recognize.
Alexandra Harbold as Jodi is convincing as a seasoned journalist playing opposite the excellent Tamara Howell (Bashira) — their fictional relationship is the basis for the play’s development. SLAC newcomer Tito Livas (Amir) is ideally cast as the protective son, proud husband and father determined to live the American Dream on his own assertive terms, while Zack Phifer (Kevin) offers the perfect foil for all of them. His understated (but occasionally explosive) performance is a standout.
This world premiere was developed in SLAC’s New Play Sounding Series and is directed by co-executive producer Keven Myhre, who is also responsible for the delightfully imaginative set.
The play runs 90 minutes with no intermission.
Performances continue at SLAC, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City, Wed.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun. 1 and 6 p.m. through March 1. Additional performances: Feb. 17 and 24, 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 21 and Feb. 28, 2 p.m.
A graduate of the University of Utah, Ann Poore is a freelance writer and editor who spent most of her career at The Salt Lake Tribune. She was the 2018 recipient of the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Artist Award in the Literary Arts.