Who Needs Explosions and Gratuitous Nudity Anyway?
Sunday afternoon’s performance of Eric Samuelsen’s Borderlands was my third experience with Plan-B Theatre Company’s unique brand of serious entertainment. If you’ve never seen a Plan-B production there are a few things you should know about Borderlands. No one gets shot. No one sings any songs. There’s not really a hero and there’s certainly not a villain. In fact, Borderlands’ cast of four Provoans mostly sit around a used car lot and talk about themselves and their shitty problems. Sound like a good time? Well it is—it really is. In fact, the thing’s been selling out all over the place. Just shut up, I’ll explain.
Plan-B is invested in what they like to call Socially Conscious Theatre. It means that every play they put on has a motive, and that motive is always the same: to get jerks like you and me to start talking about shit that matters. At worst their plays are ugly people standing on risers having PG-rated conversations for two hours. But at best a Plan-B play is an invitation to better understand one’s own beliefs, as well as a meditation on the complexity and humanness of any given social issue.
Specifically Borderlands is about ‘coming out’ within the framework of Mormonism. Not just coming out in regards to one’s sexuality (though there is that—the gay Mormon teen played by an excellent Topher Rasmussen), but coming out from behind whatever mask you and your faith have jointly constructed for you. I don’t believe in giving out specific plot details in a review (you can find character overviews in every other Borderlands review if that’s your thing, though maybe you could just go see the play…), but suffice it to say that, while Borderlands is 95% conversation 5% action, it’s not boring – never boring. You never have to wade through slogging, didactic dialogue. The play doesn’t hold your hand or deign to endorse any one side of any argument. Samuelsen’s dialogue is crisp, deceptively light while effortlessly engendering empathy at nearly every turn. Maybe I was a bit glib back there with my ‘ugly people talking about their shitty problems’ comment—call it a symptom of my continued surprise that Plan-B can make me think and feel so much by using what at first seems to be so little.
I’m not a theatre buff. I’m a never-been-Mormon Utahan with no personal stake in LGBT rights and a tendency to prefer entertainment that explodes or jiggles. But you know that moment right before you’re going to cry like a little bitch, where it feels like you’ve swallowed a golf ball and it got stuck half way down? Yeah I had wicked Golf Ball Throat at the end there. In fact I’ll bet there wasn’t a throat without a golf ball in the whole place by final curtain. Even one or two of the actors themselves cried during the post-play Q&A. That’s just how it goes at a Plan-B production, and Borderlands is Plan-B at its most successful. The play is political without losing its entertainment value. It’s emotional, but peppered with levity and warm humor. It’s far from a straight-forward morality schlep, yet it’s never vague or wishy-washy. It’s about questioning the things you’re told not to question and finding that the truth can be a really, frighteningly, liberating experience. It’s about the Momos and the gays, sure, but Samuelsen uses the specifics to speak to something general—something larger. In this way Borderlands is compelling entertainment for any faith (including no faith), and any sexuality.
Borderlands is receiving the attention it deserves and, as mentioned, is selling out like nobody’s business. It’s been so successful for Plan-B that they added one performance which sold out in ten minutes flat. So, as of just last night, Borderlands is extending again, adding three more performances for next weekend: Friday April 15, Saturday April 16, and Sunday April 17. Check Planbtheatre.org for details, or call 801.355.ARTS for tickets. $20 or $10 for students. Go soak up some culture, punk.