In a sense, Saturday’s Voyeur has always assumed a lot. Salt Lake Acting Company’s annual send-up of local culture assumes that you are acquainted at least on a nodding basis with the headlines and lowlights of the year just past. It assumes that its viewers are generally simpatico with its left-of-center worldview. And it occasionally assumes that its exuberant irreverence will carry it through the stretches when its targets are sitting ducks, or when the connective tissue between musical numbers is about as substantial as damp Kleenex.
For this silver anniversary celebration, Voyeur authors Nancy Borgenicht and Allen Nevins assume all that and more. In the end, they assume perhaps a bit too much.
Borgenicht and Nevins construct the 2003 installment of Voyeur like a classic rock tour where you half expect the audience to be flicking their lighters and screaming requests. The conflict over the Main Street/LDS church plaza provides the basic foundation for a greatest hits collection of hot-button topics from the past two-and-a-half decades. “Phatman of the Opera” Joe Waldholtz (Jason Tatom) returns, impersonating a Mormon bishop supervising rookie missionaries Chad (Geoffrey Hemingway) and Lamar (Aaron Swenson) while taking the opportunity to further torment ex-wife Enid Greene (Arika Schockmel). DeeDee Corradini (Erin Hiatt) drops by to compare notes on underhanded dealings with Joe; a cancelled angel named Monica (Jeanette Puhich) ponders her next step; and ex-porn czar Paula Houston (Annette Wright) joins Deseret Book boss Sheri Dew (Rock H. White) and Gayle Ruzicka (also Puhich) in bemoaning the state’s lost moral compass—at least until Paula and Sheri become lesbian lovers.
Using the plaza as the production’s focal point is actually an inspired (and fortuitously timely) choice. Saturday’s Voyeur, at its core, has always been about the tension between Mormon insiders and Utahns who feel perpetually frustrated by the church’s monolithic presence. The device allows for a re-examination of several big stories through that lens, providing an effective—if depressing—reminder that the more things have changed over 25 years, the more they’ve stayed the same.
But some things have changed, including a lot of the people who will be watching the show. Some of them won’t have been around for the entire history of the production, and may require more historical background than Borgenicht and Nevins have time to provide. Some of the “Voyeur virgins” welcomed before the show will be left scratching their heads at references to BYU’s Young Ambassadors scandal or nipple-less ZCMI mannequins, which presents a strange irony: For a show that has tormented the “dominant culture” for its exclusionary behavior, this Voyeur feels particularly pitched at its own band of insiders.
And, perhaps more to its detriment, pitched against that “dominant culture.” Saturday’s Voyeur has often smudged the line between legitimate satire and Mormon-bashing to the point of illegibility, but an overriding story line has made it easier to focus on the big picture. Here, with the songs wrenched from their original context and plopped into this career-achievement package, the shots at broad Mormon stereotypes feel just a bit cheaper. It’s not that you expect every moment of a burlesque cabaret to strive for droll wit; this is, after all, a show where people strip off their pants for parodies of “Flashdance” and “Lady Marmalade.” But by the time the production winds up with a soapbox pro-First Amendment speech that whips the masses into a round of sympathetic whoops, the atmosphere has become less giddy than grumpy.
It’s testimony to how well Borgenicht and Nevins have perfected their formula that Voyeur remains generally appealing despite its flaws. They continue to draw talented local performers and provide them with showcase bits like Schockmel’s show-stopping solo “Mooie Falooie” or White’s inspired drag performance. It still works as a societal pressure release valve for those on one side of the Great Divide. Maybe next year, released from their own pressure of yanking 25 years of parody into the present, Borgenicht and Nevins will find their focus sharper—and their fangs for tearing into the “dominant culture” perhaps not quite so sharp.