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One intriguing element of Morag Shepherd's new play "Not One Drop" is attempting to describe what it's about.
The play, receiving a premiere production at Plan-B Theatre Thursday to April 2, features two women. As designated in the stage directions, Aidan (Colleen Baum) is described as "older," and Rowe (Latoya Cameron) is "younger."
The Utah playwright says it's about "two women and the little intricacies of their life, which are just as important as war and violence and things that seem more immediately important."
"Not One Drop" explores the pair's relationships. As the characters morph into each other that's collusive, of course, Shepherd says the play's form becomes as significant as the story's content.
Stuff happens in this absurdist tragicomedy, which might or might not explore a fall, a push or a murder, as it delves into questions of intimacy, identity, power and death.
The characters are navigating their marriages as well as their relationships with their mothers, and along the way they appear to have a hard time keeping their stories straight. "Their personal narratives overlap so much that their stories become each other's," says director Jerry Rapier, underscoring the everyday phenomenon of longtime friends and partners who begin co-opting each other's stories.
"Not One Drop" is influenced by the absurdist theater tradition, as Shepherd says she wrote her master's thesis on the work of Edward Albee. The timing of this production seems apt for a country that's dealing with determining what is real and what is fake in the early days of a presidential administration helmed by a reality TV star.
"I've never really worked on a play that could have so many complete readings," Rapier says. "It's about many things and nothing. Whatever you bring into the theater is what you're going to see in the play. It's going to unpack some things, whether you want it to or not."
At first, the story seems made of short scenes, "and then, when the characters are literally shedding skin by trading costume pieces, the play becomes a lot more structurally connected," Rapier says.
As the characters become more unmoored, the playwright hopes theatergoers and the characters will feel as if they have descended into a drop of water and risen back out. That's the aim of the structure of the play, Shepherd says, as well as her interest in playing around with the notion of live theater.
Shepherd, the resident playwright of Salt Lake City's Sackerson theater company, was raised in rural Scotland and England, becoming anchored in Utah by her marriage after attending Brigham Young University. She says she writes in the Scottish accent of her mother and her grandmother.
Her characters tell stories to draw each other in, and the details of those stories become part of their DNA. They are like twin flames serving as each other's mirrors, Cameron says.
"They've known each other for a very, very long time," the actor says. "They're intimate in all the different forms of what we perceive intimacy might be. They're able to bring out each other's stuff, their own dark stuff, to the surface."
Rapier underscores the play's "brutal poetry," as well as its bizarre dark humor. "I think that's a fantastic weapon of absurdism, and that's something Morag understands," the director says.
He points to an exchange that might have particular relevance in an era of texting and 140-character tweets.
"I wish you would get your words together," Aidan says, to which Rowe responds: "Oh, don't be such a phrase-monger."
"Not One Drop" was selected for a production grant from The David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists. The nonprofit honors the work of Fetzer, a 30-year-old Utah-based actor and writer who died in 2012 of an accidental prescription-painkiller overdose.
Rapier says the script stood out for its bold language and structural experimentation. That's in line with Fetzer's idea of creating live theater that would nail audiences to the wall with fear, and then swing back to laughter, as he told the Tribune in 2010.
"I could completely envision a conversation with David where he would say: 'What the hell was that?' And before I could respond: 'Ahhh. Yes. Let's watch it again,' " Rapier says.
'Not One Drop'
Utah playwright Morag Shepherd's two-actor drama considers questions of intimacy and identity, life and death. "A sideways glance at the roles we play to convince ourselves we are(n't) who we think we are," is the play's description in a press release. "If Caryl Churchill and Sarah Kane were to have a literary baby, this play would be that baby. A weird, wacky baby."
Artistic staff • Directed by Jerry Rapier, with sound design by Cheryl Cluff, set design by Dan Evans, costume design by Phil Lowe and lighting design by Jesse Portillo
When • Thursday-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; plays March 23 through April 2
Tickets • $20 ($10 students); planbtheatre.org or 801-355-ARTS