Noah Diaz’s You Will Get Sick receives smartly directly, solidly acted regional premiere at Salt Lake Acting Company

Rich in metaphors rooted in fantasy, Noah Diaz’s You Will Get Sick opens up a compelling creative perspective on the taboos, stigmas and the silence of avoidance when someone realizes they have been diagnosed with a serious illness. Desperate to conceal the stigma of his debilitating illness and avoid telling those who know him, a man posts a flier and hires a stranger to become his messenger. 

These absurd and weird elements come through clearly in Salt Lake Acting Company’s (SLAC) smartly directed, solidly acted regional premiere of You Will Get Sick, which continues through March 3.

Directed by Chris Duval, the production nicely weaves in surreal elements with readily recognizable ones. The play is set before mobile phones were available, which contrasts effectively with the current age where the ubiquity of social media has made it that much easier to start up conversations with strangers or distant followers on many taboo or stigmatized matters, especially when it comes to health. 

Marion Markham and Ben Young, in You Will Get Sick, by Noah Diaz, directed by Chris DuVal, Salt Lake Acting Company. Photo Credit: Todd Collins.

A gay man (played wonderfully understated by Ben Young)  — or 1, as the script assigns numbers to each of the five cast members —  struggles mightily about communicating to anyone who knows him what is happening to his body. He gradually loses control of his mobility and limbs and inexplicable bits of straw (a good metaphor about lesions) appear on his body. 

Alone in the big city, he wonders if giant birds flying overhead will eventually snatch him. Adding to the surreal atmosphere are various side characters who offer some form of insurance to protect him from these bizarre predators (played with proper relish by Josh Tewell (as cast member 4) and a narrator (cast member 5, played with the apt objective tone, by Scotty Fletcher). The narrator moves variously on and off stage, most notably in scenes when the young man is uncoupled from his body, as the narrator communicates the man’s interior thoughts that effectively foreshadow the revelations at the end of the play. Alert audience members will enjoy finding all of the wonderful bits of foreshadowing in this production, which the director and cast have extracted with excellent effect. 

When Callan (or number 2, played with superb character tone by Marion Markham), answers his ad, the transactional relationship they establish starts out awkwardly and tenuously but it eventually sticks for the longer term. Young and Markham pull effectively from their respective character’s emotional depth, ultimately making for an odd but genuinely empathetic pair. Brash and sassy, Callan never hesitates to ask him for extra cash whenever he has a request. And, she leverages it to her benefit as well, especially when she agrees to tell his sister (3, played by Latoya Cameron, in her usual excellent performance) and he attends Callan’s acting class. Callan is planning to audition for the role of Dorothy in a production of The Wizard of Oz. But, it is precisely Callan’s ambitiously dogged attitude that reinforces the relationship that the man and her develop.

Company cast, in You Will Get Sick, by Noah Diaz, directed by Chris DuVal, Salt Lake Acting Company. Photo Credit: Todd Collins.

While he never studied theater as an undergraduate student, Diaz, originally from Council Bluffs, Iowa who became popular in the Omaha theatrical scene, wrote the play during his graduate studies in the Yale School of Drama, as part of his thesis requirements. It was set to premiere at the school in 2020, but then the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns scrapped the production. Diaz was wise not to recast the script during the downtime. 

The play finally received its premiere in 2022 by the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City, featuring two superpower actors in the leads, with Linda Lavin as Callan and Daniel K. Isaac as the young man.   

Marion Markham and Ben Young, in You Will Get Sick, by Noah Diaz, directed by Chris DuVal, Salt Lake Acting Company. Photo Credit: Todd Collins.

Bits of absurdism in the metaphor-rich landscape work well in Diaz’s treatment and SLAC’s production. We recognize that the young man’s silence could be seen as good or bad, depending upon the social or political context of circumstances but it also ends up being effective when he finds that Callan is willing to take on the role of messenger, certainly at an agreed-upon price. But, we also recognize the direct link between taboo and stigma in the play, where one worries (rightly so) about moral judgments that punish and dehumanize the sick person as the real cause of their debilitating condition. 

There is a long history of this in medicine and public health. Plays such as You Will Get Sick can open us to sharper thinking that cleanses the sociopolitical landscape of bad information as well as taboos and stigmas that have always eclipsed the most productive and compassionate conversations we should be having.

For more information and tickets, see the SLAC website.

Leave a Reply