Just like a new kid in town who wants to be popular, a new or obscure play sometimes resorts to name-dropping to get attention. Without sophisticated-sounding awards or quoted critic quips to prop up a play, saying you know or are in with the cool, established kids in school is just one pathway to becoming popular.
So for the regional premiere of Quincy Long’s quirky 1997 comedy The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite, the Salt Lake Acting Company conjures up the Cohen brothers by applying the adjective “Fargo-esque” to the play’s advertising.
You may ask (in a Minnesotan accent): “Well now, does the play live up to the movie-adjective description?”
My response: “Yup. Yeeah. More or less. But the characters in the play, nooooh, they don’t speak with Minnesotan accents.”
While it’s not clear if Long was inspired by, or was part of, the collective-consciousness conspiracy that wrought Fargo, there is a lot to recommend in The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite on its own terms. Whether or not you choose to look for similarities between the two in tone, theme and setting is entirely up to you and your humanities teacher.
The first mention of “the joy of going somewhere definite” is mouthed by Raymond, a gruff out-of-work logger at the wheel of his pickup truck. As he and his two similarly unemployed logger buddies drunkenly drive through the winter countryside, he confidently waxes on about the importance of knowing the direction you’re going in life.
Never mind that the guys are not sure exactly where they’re headed, or what to do with the silent stranger they met back at the bar who is now blacked-out in the bed of the truck.
But Long doesn’t leave his characters uncertain and aimless for too long. After Raymond and his stooge-like friends mock and take literal pot shots at the stumbling stranger, they all set their gears in motion to save the stranger’s crumbling marriage.
In one sense or another, all of Long’s off-kilter characters become empowered with a purpose and the “joy of going somewhere definite” once it is revealed to them. In most of these cases, the characters feel they get their revelations directly from the conduit of God. And interestingly enough, the characters then confirm their inspiration by breaking into song.
While The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite has an uproarious and freewheeling quality that is uniquely charged by drunken testosterone, it is also a play that subtly examines the important role of faith in people’s lives.
Much of this message can almost slip by unnoticed in Raymond’s frequent loud rounds of tipsy preaching and song. But Long brings home his message with quiet dignity using the character Marie. Although she doesn’t appear until the second act, Marie’s presence solidly grounds the play and embodies the play’s esteemed outlook of faith.
Although endings and some character mysteries are not neatly tied-up in typical Hollywood fashion, The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite feels like a journey well-spent, even if there are some minor problems with the vehicle that carries you from point A to point B.
In the SLAC production, directors Nancy Borgenicht and Allen Nevins have sound effects accompanying imaginary props that are mimed by the actors (à la Our Town, if your high school bought the sound effects tape).
Some sound effects (like a Patsy Cline-type song to a crinkled letter) are performed live with a side view of the foley artist David Evanoff and vocalist Melissa Gessel. While this sound device is interesting, it can be distracting when sounds are off by just a second, or when they pull focus away from the stage by virtue of creating curiosity to see what device made a particular sound.
Also, there are inconsistencies with this staging concept in at least two incidences when props make an appearance on stage. You start to wonder why a certain prop had to be real while others are imaginary, which only makes the whole sound-effects concept feel gimmicky and unnecessary.
Nevins and Borgenicht also weaken the emotional or dramatic conflict between actors at times by having them act face-front to the audience instead of making contact with each other. In one scene between Raymond and Marie, he makes a comment about her eyes when all he can plainly see is the back of her head. And in another incidence, actress Nancy Austad Roth is awkwardly stranded center stage for an entire scene reacting and responding to actors 3 or 4 feet behind her.
Despite these minor difficulties, Nevins and Borgenicht’s work is quite proficient and gets the job done.
As the poster boys of male bonding run amuck, William C. Moore, Don Glover Jr. and William Stockholm are hilarious in their respective roles as Raymond, Merle and Junior. Moore and Stockholm get to shine in particular as the “brains” of the outfit and the unfairly picked-on “gofer.”
Kristin Louise Kahle brings a dignified stage presence to the role of Marie, quietly but strongly filling out the show’s moral center. And though he says little as the perpetually sedated stranger, Tom Vick’s actions speak volumes about his mysterious character. Roth also makes the most of her roles, adding some nice laughs and guffaws to the production just by her simple mannerisms.
In SLAC’s intimate Chapel Theatre, Keven Myhre’s abstract set of speckled blocks and suspended logs provides a multitude of locations and is complemented by Jim Craig’s lighting.
In Long’s world, where The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite is truly a necessity, the notion of a higher being serving as a helpfully silent and unseen back-seat driver is both humorous and humbling. On many of life’s darker and challenging roads, Long shows how a little illumination can be invaluable.
The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite continues until March 14 at the Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North. Call 355-ARTS for tickets and show times.