“(a man enters),” Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 West 500 North, through Dec. 4, $38-$15, 801-363-7522 or saltlakeactingcompany.com
SALT LAKE CITY — In “(a man enters),” a play written by two Utah playwrights receiving its premiere at the Salt Lake Acting Company, the man never really enters, and that’s where this entertaining comedy-drama both begins and ends.
Written by the mother-daughter playwright team of Elaine Jarvik and Kate Jarvik Birch and inspired by a decision of their own ex-husband/father to estrange himself from his family, the main characters playfully or provocatively devise their own accounts of encountering the father, a man who has never really made it clear why he has distanced himself.
In the hands of five talented actors and under the watchful care of director Alexandra Harbold, the play reminds that not only our deepest joys but also our deepest sorrows are among those found within our own families. It’s an especially poignant production for individuals who have experienced the loss of a parent, sibling or child, either through estrangement or death: What would my life be like if that family member were still with me today?
The play gets its quite appropriate title from a script format of a parenthetically-written stage direction indicating at what point in the running dialogue a character enters the scene. The play’s ruminations are at their most whimsical when it is supposed that the father returns attired only in a bow tie and a Speedo. Well, he’s not quite so partially unclothed. He’s also wearing socks.
Playing Peter, the father who has alienated himself from his son and daughter, Terence Goodman enacts that revealing scenario along with the others supposed by his children, the overly critical but ever hopeful Rosie, played by Amanda Mahoney; and the laid-back Milo, performed by Jesse Peery.
Joining the siblings with their own suppositions are family matriarch Terry (Joyce Cohen) and Milo’s wife Dana (Deena Marie Manzanares). Milo and Dana have also joined a family gathering, the 90th birthday celebration of Peter’s mother, with an interesting development to share. For Rosie, the information is a whopper. But to Milo and Dana, it’s a mere tidbit. Ever a good mother, Terry just wants her family to be happy.
The “(a man enters)” actors perform with skill and joyfully bring the characters to life. This is a family the audience would enjoy being a part of and we share the fascination of why Peter has chosen not to associate with it.
The ex-husband/father of the playwrights is Dr. Robert Jarvik, widely known as the inventor of the first permanent total artificial heart. The irony of the doctor’s acclaim for developing an artificial heart is not lost on the audience.
Content advisory: few profanities