As the final production in Plan-B Theatre Company's "season of Eric," dedicated to several works by playwright Eric Samuelsen, 3 comes with heightened expectations after the overwhelmingly winning previous shows--Nothing Personal, Radio Hour: Fairyana, and Clearing Bombs.
Taken as a whole, the works have showcased an obviously skilled playwright, one capable of penning works that delve into history and modern life, comedy and drama, with equal effectiveness.
3 might be the most personal of the lot for Samuelsen--a collection of three short plays (Bar & Kell, Community Standard, Duets) revolving around Mormon women dealing with a variety of issues sure to ring true to both active LDS church members and those who simply are familiar with Mormon culture.
Samuelsen, an active member of the church, has created a series of characters who are utterly believable in these three stories, from the busybody ladies trying to "improve" a new young woman who just moved into the neighborhood (Bar & Kell), to the housewife coming to grips with how her husband views her (Community Standard), to the truly kindhearted choir members trying to understand the troubles a friend is having with her husband behind closed doors (Duets).
I'll admit that as a non-LDS audience member, some moments and dialogue went over my head. But the emotional wallop contained in each of the stories resound with anyone thanks to Samuelsen's ability to develop fully sketched characters within brief half-hour one-act plays. Even if you don't understand the ins and outs of ward life, you will understand and empathize with several of the characters on stage.
Besides the script, credit for that goes to the three actresses taking on the challenge of playing multiple roles, often in the same play. Teresa Sanderson, so brilliant in Plan-B's Eric(a) last season, remains so across these stories, particularly as the overbearing Bar and anti-Mormon Aunt Dot in Bar & Kell. Christy Summerhays shines brightest as Sondra, the conflicted wife with a troubled home life in Duets. And Stephanie Howell's Janeal is devastating in Community Standard, playing a woman coming to terms with her perceived value to her husband and community at large.
All three do solid work bouncing between roles and keeping up with Samuelsen's dialogue-heavy script. It's a testament to the playwright, performers and production staff how well-paced and smooth the entire production of 3 is. And after a whole season of Eric, 3 will actually leave the audience wanting more of Samuelsen's work on the Plan-B stage, and soon.
3 runs Thursdays through Sundays through April 6 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Check the Plan-B website here for showtimes, tickets and more information. Photo by Rick Pollock.