Theater | Family Affairs: Two plays about parent-child relations, but only one that gets it just right | Theater | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Theater | Family Affairs: Two plays about parent-child relations, but only one that gets it just right



The End of the Horizon

Johnson’s role is easily the most demanding, and so her success the most admirable. The character of Sloper requires an impressive range of expression over the course of the play, and Johnson’s performance shows no cracks or unrealistic leaps as we watch her character fully transform between her first nervous entrance and her quietly dramatic exit at the close. Despite a twisting road, she never loses the audience on her journey.

With a strong and compelling script and no weak links on the stage, PTC’s The Heiress is a rewarding experience. It made me almost as happy as if I’d come into a large sum of money. —RT

The End of the Horizon @ Plan-B Theatre Company, 138 W. 300 South 355-ARTS, March 14-30.

The Heiress @ Pioneer Theatre Company, 300 S. 1400 East 581-6961, March 14-29.

The story of Everett Ruess—the 22-year-old Southern California aspiring artist who vanished while traveling through the American Southwest in 1934—could inspire a dozen different narratives, each one a unique artistic treasure. It could be the speculative account, a la Into the Wild, of how the nature-loving idealist Ruess spent his final days, and what he learned from them. It could be an abstract exploration of the power the desert’s stark beauty can hold over people or a study of how figures like Ruess begin to develop a mythology.

Or it could be the story of how his mom probably missed him a lot.

There are bound to be some viewers who connect with this, the approach that local playwright Debora Threedy takes with The End of the Horizon. It’s essentially a family drama, shifting back and forth in time to show Everett (David Fetzer) preparing for what would be his final journey while also showing the reactions of his mother Stella (played by Threedy), his father Christopher (Garry Peter Morris) and his older brother Waldo (Jesse Harward) as more and more time passes without contact from Everett. It’s sturdy, safe biographical drama—one of the most conventional arcs imaginable from this source.

Plan-B Theatre Company’s world-premiere production does what it can with the material. Randy Rasmussen’s jagged set construction turns the rocky desert and the Ruesses’ rocky home life into a multi-tiered scaffold like a Wild Mouse rollercoaster. Fetzer—a standout in several Salt Lake Acting Company productions in recent years, and one of Salt Lake City’s most naturally gifted young actors—plays Everett with just the right touch of casual youthful arrogance. And the second act finds a welcome humorous dimension as Everett’s parents employ a shady pilot (Jason Bowcutt) to search for their lost son.

But there’s too little humor in Threedy’s play—and, unfortunately, too little insight of any kind. She never manages to make Stella Ruess nearly as interesting a character as her vanished son, then expects Stella to carry the play. The End of the Horizon simply walks through a familiar brand of grief- and recrimination-driven kitchen-sink drama and watches its chance at something truly engrossing disappear into the sunset. —SR

The Heiress
I must admit: What little I knew going into The Heiress, currently playing at Pioneer Theatre Company, did not inspire high expectations.
A rich young woman in mid-19th century New York falls in love with a man who may or may not only be after her money. Her father disapproves. Conflict obviously ensues, and progresses to any of a handful of easy and hackneyed conclusions. Fortunately, I was wrong.

The script by Ruth and Augustus Goetz is an adaptation of the Henry James novel Washington Square; that’s one of those things I didn’t know until after I saw the show. It’s too bad, because it probably would have helped with my expectations—though maybe it has served me better this way as a reminder of my professional obligation not to have expectations. Noted.

The familiar plot setup does not resolve in any of the predictable ways I feared throughout the first act. The characters evolve naturally according to their individual makeups and experiences rather than out of didactic authorial convenience. No punches are pulled, though, they are delivered with a certain high-mannered circumlocution appropriate to the setting.

As always, the performances are integral to the effective execution of the production. The standouts here are Effie Johnson as the titular heiress, Catherine Sloper; and Thomas Carson as her father, Dr. Austin Sloper. Both actors do commendable jobs portraying complicated inner lives and maintaining the resulting outward ambiguities, particularly in the relationship between their respective characters.