BWW Review: '/i/' at Pioneer Theatre Company

BWW Review: '/i/' at Pioneer Theatre Company

The playwright simply calls "/i/" a love story. But it's a love story between two characters whose love can't be revealed. And a love involving a third character than not only cannot be revealed but who is never on stage -- for a reason that also cannot be revealed. The title is an oblique reference to this major character.

In truth, there are not any "/i/" plot details that can be revealed, without spoiling audiences' enjoyment as the playwright's intentions are slowly, cleverly, wondrously revealed.

Even the opening scene makes little sense until all the puzzle pieces are in place. Suffice to say that it involves the primary character, Sarah Cooper, and her doctor, who is never again seen, in a pre-surgery discussion. With a string of the doctor's inane-sounding questions. One question gets a startling response, which only makes sense until later.

"I'm very good at what I do," the doctor mentions as she exits the scene. "And you'll feel better afterward."

Playwright Jeff Talbott's "/i/" is a complete delight. The most intelligently written and devised episode of "The Twilight Zone" -- if comparing to a TV show is not a denigration.

Pioneer Theatre Company's Artistic Director Karen Azenberg is to be applauded for surprisingly selecting and so skillfully directing "/i/." And assisting in its development, after being workshopped in the company's Play-by-Play series. And following "Alabama Story," which enjoys a healthy second life, that followed the same process at PTC. (Notably written by Talbott's husband, Kenneth Jones.)

This comes from not a fan of the sci-fi genre. In reality, it's only in the vein of sci-fi, a point made in advance descriptions, because it's set "a few days after tomorrow" -- and yet the premise is completely plausible.

Included in press materials of this world-premiere production that Sarah Cooper (Kathleen McElfresh) meets "a nice gay named Jake [Bellamy (Todd Gearhart)]. But is Jake a 'nice guy'? And what did that doctor do?" Were those plot details approved by the author? Because they arguably are too informative.

McElfresh makes Sarah intelligent yet bewildered. Appealing yet disconcerting. Lovely yet ordinary. Gearhart is charming yet also a bit mysterious. Ruggedly handsome yet unaware. Additional details of the roles they vividly create? Yes: too revealing. Hence, physical descriptions are mentioned.

Allow me to mention my personal heart-rendering attachment to "/i/" because a sister endured a double-whammy unimaginable loss, at the family homestead in Bear Lake, Idaho. A similar event is structured into the play.

BWW Review: '/i/' at Pioneer Theatre Company
Playwright Jeff Talbot

Talbott's works have been produced at the prestigious off-Broadway MCC Theater--where famed playwright/film director/screenwriter Neil LaBute (a former BYU student) has been, until two days ago, artist-in-residence. Along with the equally influential Thalian Hall for the Performing Arts in North Carolina. Talbott's theater credits include roles in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," "The Odd Couple" and "Doubt."

Scenic design by Paul Tate DePoo III is brilliant, and Gregory Gale's costume designs also effective to capture the not-distant future. Jake is an unkempt everyman; Sarah a not-terribly-fashionable everywoman, with hints of tomorrow. The hemline of a patron at a haughty museum -- with keyboarded "art" not containing the letter "i" -- is superb.

According to PTC's content advisory, "/i/" is R-rated for language, but the dialogue is everyday. Jake sipping "a fair amount" of wine is only true by Utah's overly restrictive beverage-consuming definition.

Surprising for its originality and intriguing for its structure, "/i/" is deeply gratifying theater.

Name another artwork that can only be similarly sketchily described.

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