By Jason and Alisha Hagey
Never shying away from complex subjects, Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC) takes on the challenging human concepts of disease and death in their latest dramedy production, You Will Get Sick (YWGS). Noah Diaz (Playwright) crafts a multilayered, complex narrative that makes active, didactic use of surrealism and abstract metaphors, encouraging the audience to engage with the presented ideas. Ostensibly, the story is about a young man (notably of “millennial” age) who solicits an older woman to relay to his sister that he is terminally sick because he cannot do it himself. YWGS is about so much more. SLAC’s production is brilliantly envisioned, profoundly acted, and meticulously designed.
In his work, Diaz uses many metaphors related to the story of The Wizard of Oz to create a modern tale. He tells a story with a deeper meaning that is relatable to everyone. Diaz tries to keep the audience at a distance from the story so that they can observe and think about the issues presented rather than just getting emotionally involved. In this way, Diaz encourages people to think critically about the human experiences portrayed in his work.
On 19 October 2016, the comedy project Obvious Plant shared a parody meme depicting four students’ responses to “What Scares You the Most?” in a Halloween questionnaire. While two students opt for simple, childlike fears like “Werewolves” and “Ghosts,” the third student, Dylan, humorously replies, “The unstoppable marching of time that is slowly guiding us all towards an inevitable death.” In the end, Dylan’s response is what Diaz wants us to confront, albeit in the most hilarious way possible. The exploration of disease and death are all beautifully (and surreally) explored. As the affliction progresses, everything gets blurred in obscurity. I got lost in the metaphor by the end. Yet, I’m still thinking about it. I’m still trying to decide for myself what it all means. Thought-provoking art is never a bad option.
Providing a powerful vision for this production, Chris DuVal (Director) understands Diaz’s text and orchestrates an exceptional ensemble and collaboration between actors and designers. DuVal is fearless in approaching non-linear storytelling and captures the imagination inherent in the play. With the absurd logic of the diegetic reality, DuVal can get us thinking about real-life scenarios around mortality. For instance, DuVal uses the show’s platform to get us thinking about hospice and paid caregivers without so much as a line pointing directly at them. As the relationship between the leads evolves, it feels like we are hiring people not just to deliver our meals to our front doors but to serve as a form of humanity itself. Humanity (or human kindness) comes at a price, but at least it’s a human connection, right? DuVal expertly elucidates the transactional nature of caring for our sick and dying (among other things).
Ben Young (1) and Marion Markham (2) instantaneously engross the audience in the story. Their personalities as characters are a perfect balance between bold and bland. Young plays a troubled man who is as much devastated by his condition as he is resigned to it. How he perfectly encapsulates the stages of grief, I don’t know. He does this with ease and nuance. His character fights for a sense of sanity while all around him, and in him, is insanity. Young’s subtle turn of phrase is perfection.
Meanwhile, Markham explodes onstage with her devil-may-care attitude and unforgettable charisma. She matches Young’s laconic nature with an impetuous verboseness. One cannot help but want to listen to every word she says. Markham’s comic delivery and sarcastic wit grab you by the ears, pull you close, and require you to pay attention.
Even with the transactional/caregiver relationship between 1 and 2, I still can’t help but want to know more and spend more time with these characters. When 2 dreams of starring as Dorothy in a community theater production of The Wizard of Oz, the remark that 1 makes, “Did this Dorothy see the trials of war and age 60 years?” is just marvelous. The show is absurd yet lovely, honest, and authentic (can you say that in a world where giant birds attack people randomly?).
Latoya Cameron (3) is a familiar and much-loved presence in the SLAC family. Cameron is versatile, vibrant, and capable of portraying just about any character. At times, Cameron’s characters can be straight-out narcissistic, and at other times, loveable. She is compelling in every role.
Josh Tewell (4) is loud and flashy and all things fabulous. I lost count of how many different characters he plays (sometimes 3 or 4 in the same scene – and he is always so clear when he transitions into a new role). He is a disrespectful salesman, an overly-happy-not-quit- hospice-aid, an empty server (“Welcome to Burger Bang where you can bang a burger for your burger buck” (try saying that 5 times fast), or a carrying boyfriend, Tewell masters them all. He is our wizard selling snake oil, our tin-man turned Nurse Ratched and part of what makes home unique and vital for 1.
Scotty Fletcher (5) initially confused me, not their acting but the role itself (as I think their character is supposed to). They are our narrator – at times clinical, at other times giving us another layered insight into 1’s plight that seemed unnecessary (thus enhancing the distancing nature of the narrative). There was a moment where I lost faith in the narrator role altogether (I should have trusted Diaz more). Ultimately, Fletcher’s unexpected payoff is a warm hug, making 5 a dynamic addition.
The set is abstract, open to interpretation, and available to countless scenes. Dennis Hassan (Set Designer) provides a colorless, gray setting to inhabit. There is a verisimilitude of reality here, but the world is more symbolic, and Hassan’s design perfectly accompanies that symbolism. Nearing the end of the show, Hassan subverts our expectations significantly after so much gray, eventually turning the world into something warm and hopeful.
This warmth and hope, the symbolism and the reality of each moment are accentuated by Michael Horesji (Light Designer). More than anything, Horesji reflects the emotional space of our characters, bringing to life those things they cannot express in words or actions. His lighting is both otherworldly and deeply grounded in our reality. The effect is dizzying and delightful.
With effortless perfection, Nancy Hills (Costume Designer) understands character. Her designs capture the essence of the characters through simple lines and perfect colors. In a world that is necessarily without a time, she gives a sense of place – not the actual location of the play, but the emotional and psychological place that each character exists in. In a way, Hills grounds the production design with comfortable verity.
All productions require good audio, but YWGS relies upon its sound design. Thus, Cynthia L. Kehr Rees (Sound Design) had her work cut out for her. The soundscapes in this production need to be distinctive and recognizable; reflecting the narration and fitting within the ever-surreal world. Kehr Rees’s design is not just excellent but euphonious and effective.
The actors in YWGS are incredible. Their timing and energy are astounding. The creative team behind the production just killed it. From design through to directing, YWGS is just so good. As I write, I keep reflecting on what keeps me from adoring this production. My hang-up is one element of the script that separates itself from the rest of the absurd and adds another level of ambiguity that is one too many bits of incongruous exploration for me. I say this, and it doesn’t hold me back from highly recommending the production. Truly, go. The line delivery is marvelous. The look at disease is gut-wrenching but is given to us in the form of comedy and, in this instance, makes it much easier to witness the death of a young man. The approach of looking at terminal illness in this manner is unique and relatable. Seeing the deterioration of those I have loved and watching the pain and hesitation within each character on stage, their reactions and responses are so grounded. We need more ways to discuss these issues (inevitable or extreme), and You Will Get Sick is a fantastic platform to begin this dialogue.
The show runs about 90-minutes.
*There is adult language throughout the show
Salt Lake Acting Company Presents You Will Get Sick by Noah Diaz
Salt Lake Acting Company – Upstairs Theatre – 168 West 500 North, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84103
February 7th to March 3rd, 2024
Dark Monday’s and Tuesday’s. We will have a Tuesday performance on Tuesday, February 20th. Select Saturday matinees. Shows at 1 PM and 6 PM on Sunday’s.
Ticket Cost: $30-41
Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
Sundays at 1:00 p.m.
Sundays at 6:00 p.m.
Box Office Phone: 801.363.7522
Box Office Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Open 11am – 5pm, Mon – Fri
SLAC Facebook Page
SLAC Instagram Page
Open Captioned Performance: February 25th at 6 PM
Audio Described Performance: February 18th at 6 PM
Sensory Performance: February 17th at 2 PM
ASL Interpreted Performance: March 3rd at 6 PM
Further accessibility information is available on our website, or by contacting our Accessibility Coordinator Emily Sinclair at Emily@SaltLakeActingCompany.Org