Sarah Shippobotham (center) and the cast of Down the Rabbit Hole
It’s not easy to strike a balance between spiky humor and genuine compassion for characters. Over the years when Saturday’s Voyeur
occupied the showcase summer spot for Salt Lake Acting Company, the emphasis was squarely on the former, and it resulted in a successful formula for delivering satire of local politics and mores. But SLACabaret: Down the Rabbit Hole
aims for something a little more generous—and it’s a satisfying surprise to find how often it succeeds.
The set-up finds several people attending the annual distributor conference for an essential oils company called ōilCON, each one looking for something different out of the experience. Holly Wood (T Anthony) looks to expand her sales through her social-media brand. Unhappily married couple Marjorie (Kimi Handa Brown) and Matt (Aaron Linford Allred) hope the event might bring them closer together. Alice (Daisy Ali All) wants to find common ground with her enthusiastically committed-to-the-brand mother (Kelsie Jepsen). And Trudy (Niki Rahimi) just wants to dig out from the financial hole that her lack of sales success has left her in.
The writing team of Olivia Custodio, Emilio Casillas and musical director Michael Levitt frames the events with a connection to Alice in Wonderland
, with a Caterpillar (Sarah Shippobotham) and screen-projected Cheshire Cat (Annette Wright) overseeing the proceedings. The idea does allow for some creativity in Heidi Ortega’s costume design, like the red-and-yellow color patterns for the Tweedledee/Tweedledum counterparts in a pair of BYU classmates (Danny Borba and Joseph Paul Branca), and a few familiar lines of dialogue, but it’s a loose framework at best. As much as the idea of going “down the rabbit hole” connects with irrational belief in multi-level marketing companies’ cult-like appeal, the Alice
character counterparts do sometimes feel a bit forced.
The production is more successful at being a musical revue, and Custodio draws from a mix of Broadway showtunes (Into the Woods
) and pop chestnuts (Diana Ross, The Killers, Alanis Morisette) for the basis of her song parodies. The arrangements are generally short and punchy, never over-staying their welcome, leading to a show that really moves as it clocks in at under two hours. And Custodio generally proves quite thoughtful in picking the right song for the right moment, like when “Mother Knows Best” from Tangled
becomes “Bishops Knows Best,” transferring the original song’s passive-aggressive, guilt-inducing appeal to authority to a fitting new venue.
Best of all, Down the Rabbit Hole
does really try to understand why these organizations pull people in—and draws clear connections between MLMs and the dominant local religion, not for nothing. Custodio needs to pack quite a few character arcs into a tight time frame, and not every one of them lands with equal success. The show does, however, recognize the foibles of people looking for connections in (perhaps) all the wrong places, and does so with energy and entertainment. As appeals for sanity in the midst of madness go, this one is more about love than anger, which nowadays feels curiouser and curiouser, and fairly welcome.
SLACabaret: Down the Rabbit Hole runs through Aug. 21 at Salt Lake Acting Company (168 W. 500 North). Visit the website for tickets and showtimes.