Look at any display ad touting a city’s downtown district. The images focus less on a venue such as a restaurant, shop or bar than on the people’s faces. It is about the convivial, romantic experience of city life. The spaces of downtown are empty until they are filled with the stories of the people who live, work and date there.
Hindsight, a new play written by Morag Shepherd and directed by Alex Ungerman, is destined to an intriguing experimental theatrical experience that allows audience members to decide just how close they want to be as they watch a romantic comedy unfold before their eyes at various locations in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. The play, produced by Sackerson and 3 Irons, premieres Thursday, May 17, with performances, beginning at 6 p.m., 7:35 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. The show will run for the next five weekends, with at least performances on Thursday and three performances each on Friday and Saturday.
Only five audience members are allowed per performance. Ticketholders receive specific instructions by email about where to meet. For instance, today’s preview performance will start at a Utah Transit Authority bus stop on State Street in the central business district. The audience members follow the actors who perform at various outdoor and indoor locations throughout the 95-minute show. The actors’ voices are broadcast through headphones given to the audience. The total walking distance for the show is roughly 1.5 miles encompassing an area of roughly two square blocks.
Sackerson’s theatrical experiments typically succeed because the production values emphasize strength of performance and artistic direction that honors the expressive integrity of the playwright’s scripts over everything else. Thus, the unconventional staging for Hindsight makes sense. Ungerman, who was inspired in part by the 1960s book The Empty Space by Peter Brook, researched the staging for Hindsight by walking and filming through downtown Salt Lake City. He used a stopwatch to gauge timing, as he scouted locations that would serve to convey an authentic sense of emotions and actions in the story idea he considered. He then asked Shepherd, one of Sackerson’s producers and resident playwrights, to write a script for what would be a romantic comedy.
The story line is simple and elegant that focuses on whether a couple will find love. There are three main characters: Lorraine, Ford and Chase. The script for Hindsight is unlike Shepherd’s recent plays which weave complex themes through complex characters. But, nonetheless, Shepherd’s rendering of these three characters for a romantic comedy builds in a depth of emotional portraits that would be less likely found in a feature film of this genre. There are elements of sarcasm, vulnerability and charm but all presented without seeming judgmental or preachy.
Not so ironically, the immersive aspect of Hindsight promises a cinematic feel that should resonate with the audience. Virtually every aspect of the play is scripted save for a brief scene with music and improvisation, as the audience and cast members move from one location to another. Nothing is happenstance, though. The play has been tightly blocked during rehearsals but the actors also have been prepared to be as naturally nuanced as possible.
There are many details in the characters that will make audience members feel right at home. At the beginning of the play which takes place on the bus, Lorraine, a young Mormon who sees herself as boring, believes Chase is about to propose marriage, something she is certainly hesitant about, as she mentions to a friend. Lorraine was attracted to Chase because he was so connected to his emotions and he made it easy for her to talk about things that she had never mentioned before so openly.
Soon after, we meet Ford, whom Lorraine also dated. Lorraine believed Ford rejected her after he left for his work. He is into agroforestry and trains farmers in beekeeping. Chase appears in the fourth scene, which takes place at the popular hot dog establishment J Dawgs on Main Street. He wants Lorraine to answer forthrightly but worries that she has been “shutting down” on him. Lorraine vacillates, worried that Chase is just trying to be manipulative.
Shepherd works in abundant accessible material that feeds the natural tension one appreciates in these types of story lines. Ford talks about a Radio Lab program which apparently mentioned that no one has control over anything and choice is just a illusion that cannot trump our biological nature. Lorraine counters with a podcast that suggests “we have ultimate control over our destiny and choices. So, I’m probably right, and you’re probably wrong – and that’s really sad for you!” Ford believes the fact that they both like podcasts is good enough to make a relationship work.
The best way to approach Hindsight is to see it as a guided tour but with a full-length play that leverages the emotional impact of the locations used for the seven scenes. Audience members can decide how close they want to be in observing the action. Some might decide to sit as closely as possible—perhaps no more than a couple or three feet from the actors in a particular scene. Others might step a little further back, perhaps wondering more about the ambient vibe of a specific location. “We hope that audience members will see the scenic backdrops differently after the play, even if it is a space they have walked through many times,” Ungerman explains.
Sackerson will use rotating casts for each performance. At various times, Mary Nikols and McKenzie Steele Foster will take the role of Lorraine. Connor Nelis Johnson and Shawn Francis Saunders will take the role of Ford, while Brandt Garber and Tyler Fox will portray the role of Chase.
For tickets, see HindsightSLC.com.