Salt Lake Acting Company’s season opener is a tender, thoughtful slice of lunch lady land.
We live in a noisy world. What with all the hurricanes and fires and Donald Trumps. And these days entertainments are accordingly calamitous—all fire-breathing dragons and super heros and such smashings and crashings. So, its really a nice break to witness something as quiet and steady as Salt Lake Acting Company’s Season opener Surely Goodness & Mercy.
Part of the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere Program, the play makes its Salt Lake debut with a local cast and production designed and directed by SLAC’s creative team. Set in present day Newark, NJ, it’s the story of two children and their relationship with the loveably cantankerous lunch lady at their inner-city school.
Interestingly, SLAC is staging the play with two kid-actor casts. I saw the performance featuring Kiara Riddle as Deja and Devin Losser as Tino, the play’s two child leads. Tino is the super smart but on-the spectrum center of the play and we follow his tumultuous life at home and school. Tino is earnest and sweet and often lost. He finds guidance in his departed mother’s Bible and church attendance.
Devin Losser as Tino, Kiara Riddle as Deja
I’m sure many of you know a young kid like Tino. He’s smart but befuddled by social situations and relationships. He blinks too little and is literally wide-eyed and innocent about, well, everything. Young Losser is amazing in this role and he brings an entirely relatable in a pitch-perfect performance that highlights his innate talents as well as what I’m sure was some steady-handed guidance from Director Alicia Washington. Losser’s counterpart Riddle is also a raw talent who supports Losser’s performance ably with her sassy (and foul-mouthed) Dejia.
Backstopping the child actors are two adult principals Michelle Love Day who plays Tino’s despicable Aunt and Yolanda Wood as Bernadette the lunch lady. Both bring surety and confidence to their roles and keep the kids on track through a few opening night jitters.
Part of the play’s charm is its forays into the religious realm. Young Tino’s OCD facincation with the Bible leads the play into scripture and sermon (with some nice voice work from James Jameson). Perhaps because there are so many self-proclaimed Christians out there in the world acting in very un-Christian ways, the arts world tends to scoff at religion. (See: SLAC’s last-season closer Hand to God) And, secular humanist that I am, I’m often guilty of much scoffing. But the religious moments in Surely Goodness and Mercy, are reminders that for every awful Leviticus verse there’s a beautiful Psalm. The play doesn’t preach as much as it demonstrates how religion can offer quiet pushes towards charitable and kind acts.
The play has a dramatic core that I don’t want to spoil for you so I won’t delve much more into the plot here. Suffice it to say that Surely Goodness & Mercy has no dragons, no vamping queens, no Sybil moments. It’s just plain nice and one of the loveliest evenings of theater I’ve enjoyed for a long time.
Be sure to see it. It runs through Oct. 15, 2017.
Tickets and info here.