"SIX YEARS," through Dec. 7, Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North (801-363-0526) running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission)
Playwright Sharr White wrote a line in "Six Years," playing now through Dec. 7 at Salt Lake Acting Company, that so beautifully states what his play is about.
Phil, a World War II vet, sits on a hotel bed talking to his ex-wife and says, "I realized that ... dying, Meredith, is not the ultimate sacrifice. We are."
Having watched this couple's journey over the past 24 years of their lives, you can't help but wonder how many vets and their families are truly living this ultimate sacrifice: torn, broken and hollow.
That was White's goal, who said in a recent phone interview, "More than anything, I really wanted to provide a more untold story of the so-called 'greatest generation.' I wanted to tell a story that's not often told about many people from this generation who didn't find it to be as glorious as American mythology tends to make it."
We meet Phil and Meredith (Robert Scott Smith and Alexandra Harbold) 24 years prior, in 1949. World War II has ended, Phil didn't come home when he was supposed to — instead disappearing, unable to face his life.
Meredith hears he's been spotted at a local motel and runs to find him. Through a scattered and disjointed conversation, they decide to work on things one day at a time.
Each scene moves forward six years, seeing the couple experience the "big idea" frenzy of the '50s; the election of Kennedy; the Vietnam War; and ends in 1973 as two broken people wonder how to move on.
A fine cast, assembled by director Tracy Callahan, handles the meaty material very well. Smith's Phil Granger is a good mix of pain, optimism, emptiness, warmth, broken man and boyish husband.
Harbold also brings a nice energy, with continual sorrow and hope as she watches her husband suffer, unsure of what to do to help — as this play takes place before post-traumatic stress disorder had a name.
The cast is rounded out by Michael Todd Behrens, Paul Kiernan, Susan Dolan, Leticia Velez and Jesse Pepe — whose interactions with the couple provide some of the funnier and also more tumultuous moments.
Keven Myhre, having the task of designing a set that is functional and timeless (as the show spans its 24 years), did a great job, with quick set changes and pieces that were multifunctional.
One important note — during the scene changes, SLAC plays news clips from the era in which the next scene takes place. Try to listen to those clips as they do a great job setting the scene.
Brenda Van der Wiel's costumes and James M. Craig's lighting also define the different eras nicely.
White described "Six Years" as a love story. "It's ultimately how they recover together and how they define things they cannot speak about." This love story, with its profound backdrop, is ultimately a timely look at war, our soldiers and what truly is the ultimate sacrifice.
Sensitivity rating: Very strong language, sexual situation, drinking.