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"If you weren't so ridiculous, you would be tragic," a frustrated Alex Weedle tells Chris Remington at one point in Utah playwright L.L. West's "Remington and Weasel," making its world premiere at Pygmalion Productions. It is the tension between these opposites that makes West's play interesting and eventually undermines its impact. "Remington and Weasel" wants to be a screwball comedy and a love story, a satire on academic politics and policies and an empathetic portrait of two people trapped in them. Because it can't cram all these things into one play, its focus and tone keep shifting, and the effect is jarring.
Chris Remington (Tamara Howell) and Alex Weedle (Alexandra Harbold) or Weasel, as Chris calls her when she comes "lurking" and "skulking" to sit in on her Intro to Film class teach in a college theater department. Chris is bright and clever and funny, but she is also arrogant, independent and hates authority; she has an aggressive, unorthodox teaching style that puts her at odds with the college administration, and Robin, the department chair, has sent Alex to find out exactly what's going on in her class.
Complicating things is that Chris and Alex once had a relationship and remain close friends, but Alex couldn't handle Chris' "misguided hubris" or the extreme swings in her personality and behavior. What especially irks Chris is that Alex has now paired with Robin.
These are two rich and fully drawn characters, and Harbold's and especially Jenkins' performances give them even more depth and humanity. We understand and come to care about them.
But West also wants them to be victims of Henry Kissinger's maxim that "university politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so low." He starts cluttering the play with subplots: There's the student from Bulgaria (Maddiey Howell) whose friend (Haley McCormick) is covering in the class for her absence, and a would-be Olympic athlete (Max Huftalin) who needs an easy class credit. After Chris tells her class to destroy their notes causing campus riots here and elsewhere, thanks to the Internet a ghoulish college reporter (Marcella Pereda) starts stalking her. The play's tone shifts, the situation becomes increasingly absurd and most of these characters never rise above caricatures.
Pygmalion's stylish, fast-moving production compensates deftly for the play's lapses. West writes clever dialogue, and "Remington and Weasel" is often very funny. Howell's Chris is flamboyant and charismatic, especially when the audience becomes her class, and Harbold's Alex is sympathetic and supportive as she struggles to cope with the crisis Chris ignites. Director Robin Wilks-Dunn uses the alternating distance and closeness of the two onstage to reflect the ebb and flow of their relationship and maintains a brisk pace. The supporting cast is consistently entertaining, and Pereda particularly sinks her fangs into the role of the diabolical reporter.
John Wayne Cook and Nicholas Redington's eclectic, disheveled set resembles the chaos in Chris' brilliant, but scattered, mind, and Pilar I's crisp lighting shifts maintain the momentum. Teresa Sanderson and Michael Nielsen's costumes are perfectly keyed to character: Alex wears fashionable, tailored outfits, and Chris looks as if she grabbed her clothes from a rummage sale or the costume rack for the next theatrical production.
"Remington and Weasel" introduces us to two compelling characters and makes some pithy points about the machinations of campus politics, but its sudden shifts from the real world to a fantastic one and back continually disrupt the play's rhythm. This play simply needs to decide what story it wants to tell.
'Remington and Weasel'
Dynamic performances from Tamara Howell and Alexandra Harbold and witty writing compensate for the inconsistent tone and busy subplots in this Pygmalion production.
When • Reviewed April 22; plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 7, with an extra matinee May 7 at 2 p.m.
Where • Leona Wagner Black Box Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. Broadway, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20; $15 for students and seniors; 801-355-ARTS orpygmalionproductions.org; contains adult language and situations
Running time • Two hours (including an intermission)