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Pioneer Theatre Company's "Women in Jeopardy!" offers a well-appointed, gamely acted version of a Real Housewives of Salt Lake-style comedy.
There's great comedic effort on display, but Wendy MacLeod's script doesn't deliver any fresh ideas. The story's conflict and characters never rise above TV situation-comedy stereotypes. The story wants to be a sendup, but never digs deep enough to offer original satirical insights.
The Salt Lake City and southern Utah backdrops serve as window dressing instead of providing specific insight into the urban wilderness of the dating world for "women of a certain age."
What's best about this production is the chemistry of the trio of actors who play longtime fun-run and book-club friends. Their friendship is rocked after Mary (Anne Tolpegin) and Jo (Rosalyn Coleman) meet Liz's (Elizabeth Meadows Rouse) new boyfriend, Jackson (Joe Gately), whose jokes and affect are creepy.
Mary's and Jo's fears are affirmed when they learn that Jackson, a dentist, is under suspicion in the disappearance of his young hygienist. When they learn that Liz's sexy but dim daughter, Amanda (Betsy Helmer), plans a southern Utah camping trip with her mother's boyfriend, the friends ineptly enlist the help of Amanda's ex, Trenner (CJ Strong), a snowboarder.
Rouse and her blond Farrah Fawcett waves trip airily around the stage, while Coleman's Jo offers masterful double-takes. Tolpegin's Mary strikes poignant notes as she gracefully turns aside young Trenner's naive passes, but overplays her character's "lean-in" attraction to the police sergeant (also Gately) investigating the hygienist's disappearance.
As the clueless young characters, Strong and Helmer exhibit onstage charisma, but their characters' stereotypical affectations quickly become annoying.
Under artistic director Karen Azenberg's direction, the show is fast-paced, aided by the antic music playing during scene breaks, while Daniel Meeker's set design works winningly.
But a game cast and Pioneer's high production values can't paper over the thinness of the script, particularly in the missed opportunity of a locally inspired story that could do so much more work in sending up this particular place.
Admittedly, critics are known for our collective humorlessness, and on opening night, theatergoers around me seemed to appreciate the zingers tucked into the sparse local references although I did think I observed some cringing in the rows ahead of me during a tent-thumping scene that played for laughs a mother's sexual exploits in the earshot of her daughter.
What this comedy reveals, once again, is just how hard it is to craft a contemporary farce.
"Women in Jeopardy!" lands with unfortunate timing, unfolding at a divisive time when aisle-crossing art has begun to matter more than ever.
'Women in Jeopardy!'
Contemporary comedy wants to send-up dating culture among "women of a certain age," but story is too thin to deliver.
When • Feb. 10-25; 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday matinees
Where • Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $25-$44; $5 more on day of show; K-12 students half-price on Monday and Tuesday shows; at 801-581-6961, theater box office or pioneertheatre.org
Run time • Two hours, including intermission