Front Row Reviewers

Feb 16, 2024 | Reviews

Plan-B Theatre’s Balthazar in Salt Lake City, Utah: A Heartwarming Study of Love and Drag

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers

By Ashlei Havili Thomas

Balthazar, a new work by Debora Threedy, developed and produced by the Plan-B Theatre Lab in Salt Lake City, Utah, poses a simple question to Shakespeare lovers:  What if Portia (in the bard’s The Merchant of Venice) dressing in drag as a male lawyer in court wasn’t her first time—or her last?  Plan-B Theatre is known for their plays that poke at societal norms and crafting new works by local playwrights, and this sharp, witty piece is no exception.  Gender identity and gender expression, along with sexuality, societal expectations, and the duality of drag are all packed into this two-person, seventy-minute performance that delights the audience and strikes at the heart of who we are as human beings and how we find love (for ourselves and others) in the unlikeliest of places.

Balthazar by and large runs parallel to Shakespeare’s story, giving “behind the scenes” glimpses into the conversations between Portia and Bellario, her cousin and a lawyer. All the well-known scenes are topics of their conversations:  the mysterious caskets, Bassanio’s suit to wed Portia, the loan by Shylock, the trial, and the pound of flesh.  But instead of Balthazar, Portia’s alter-ego, being a one-time stunt to save Antonio, the audience finds that Portia created this character to walk through the world as a man, study law, and have the freedom she craves that society denies her as a woman.  We also learn of Bellario’s love for Tobias, held over his head in blackmail, and Portia’s suspicions that Bassanio and Antonio are also in a relationship.  The entirety of the script is conversations between Bellario and Portia (or Balthazar), in which we see not only the depth of their relationship but the confidence with which they finally choose to move in the world.

Lily Hye Soo Dixon as Portia is a force of nature.  Witty, cunning, yet vulnerable and naïve, Dixon creates distinct characters of Balthazar and Portia without compromising the dual nature of either.  Dixon’s character arc from untested and insatiable to self-assured and unapologetic is riveting.  Meanwhile, Jason Bowcutt (Bellario) is the play’s grounding force.  His wits, patience, and beliefs are constantly tested by Dixon, but Bowcutt takes it in stride.  Bowcutt reigns in Bellario’s paternal instincts, transforming them into a mentorship and friendship with Balthazar and Portia.  Often the audience does not consider the enormity of the task a one- or two-person show puts on the actors: to have the audience’s undivided attention with no respite.  But Bowcutt and Dixon are well up to the challenge; their constant battle of wits makes the play an unmatched pleasure to enjoy. Their connection and energy easily convince the audience that this story, unwittingly forgotten but now beloved, was hidden behind Shakespeare’s work all along.

The scenic design by Janice Chan is a showstopper, evoking the artistic opulence of Venetian style with floating works of art and red drapes creating a backdrop for the scene.  The set is largely stationary for the play, allowing Chan to create a beautiful, inviting room for the actors to work within and the audience to be drawn toward.  The sound design by Cheryl Ann Cluff builds on the rich visual wonders with entrancing lute and madrigal songs that further draw the audience into the world of Renaissance Italy.  Cluff also is the director for Balthazar; her work in the scenic tableaus the characters create and in the flow of the production make this play a warm invitation for introspection into the idea of love.

Balthazar at Plan-B Theatre is a sweet, heartwarming tale that all ages can enjoy (and no, the play is not written in Shakespearean verse).  This cozy tale of love and identity is the perfect end to an evening downtown with anyone you love: a friend, significant other, or family member.  Balthazar reminds us love takes different shapes, that our need to love and be loved is an immutable part of being human.  Make time for this beautifully witty world premiere of Balthazar by local Utah playwright Debora Threedy, produced by Salt Lake City’s Plan-B Theatre.

Plan-B Theatre presents the world premiere of Balthazar written by Debora Threedy.
Plan-B Theatre, the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center’s Studio Theatre
138 W 300 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84101
February 15-16, 21-22, 29, March 1, 2024 8:00 PM; Feb 17, 24, March 2 4:00PM; Feb 18, 25, March 3 2:00 PM
Tickets: $15-25
Plan-B Theatre Facebook page
Balthazar Facebook event

Front Row Reviewers

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