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The complexity of even the simplest relationship is astounding. The faces we turn toward others are so varied, and the reactions they elicit so unpredictable, that it's a minor miracle when two people get to know each other at all. When the two are a man and a woman, sex adds another layer of complication, and love and betrayal are only a breath apart.
The challenges of establishing and maintaining relationships in work and in love are at the heart of Wendy MacLeod's "Find and Sign," making its world premiere at Pioneer Theatre Company. The play's interesting fusion of comedy of manners and social commentary allows it to function on deeper levels than the clever, but rather brittle, banter of its opening scenes suggests. In the second act, MacLeod deftly penetrates beneath the surface coping mechanisms of her characters to expose the desires and needs that drive them and the ambivalent emotions that connect them.
The story has several interwoven strands. At the center is the relationship between Julia (Molly Ward), a bright, outspoken, somewhat-naïve Midwesterner who teaches high school in the Bronx, and Iago (Karl Miller), an ambitious, city-savvy record executive trying to make an impact as a white man in the largely black world of hip-hop. Iago's relationship with his boss, Andre (Keith Hamilton Cobb), and co-worker and rival for promotion Cal (Daniel Morgan Shelley), and Julia's mentoring of a bright black student, Mac (Terrell Donnell Sledge), incorporate racial issues into the play. And the on-again, off-again love affair between Andre and Julia's friend Mona (Gardner Reed), a sultry, sophisticated, easily bored fashion consultant, counterpoints and intersects with Julia and Iago's relationship. When Iago's record company offers Mac a contract, he must choose between a scholarship to Columbia University and a lucrative career as the newest hip-hop star.
MacLeod chose the character name Iago to make allusions to Shakespeare's "Othello." This is especially clear in a scene where Iago manipulates and lies to the jealous Andre. One of the satisfactions of "Find and Sign" is watching the way MacLeod transitions between the play's surface humor and its more serious undertones.
In keeping with the play's developing depth, the actors gradually get beneath their characters' skins to reveal hidden attitudes and agendas. The articulate confidence of Ward's Julia masks her deep-seated social insecurity. Miller's Iago keeps people at a distance to hide his fear of commitment. Reed's party-girl Mona deeply craves love and acceptance. Cobb's affable Andre can turn unexpectedly cold and abrupt. Sledge's Mac betrays the conflict of his choice when he says, "I go one way, and I'm not smart enough for you. I go the other way, and I'm not rich enough for you." And Shelley's Cal is more callously ambitious than his placid surface discloses.
Charles Morey's direction is wonderfully fluid. Actors step in and out of shifting scenes, donning and discarding pieces of clothing as they go, skillfully disguised by Dennis Parichy's constantly fluctuating lighting. Like the city where it is set, this play is always in motion. James Wolk's set, with its city skyline backdrop, looks like a patchwork apartment house. Pamela Scofield's costumes have a distinctly urban look.
"Find and Sign" is a satisfying combination of wit and insight that throws a penetrating light on the paradoxes that inform contemporary relationships.
Review: 'Find and Sign'
R Bottom line: Pioneer Theatre Company's production of "Find and Sign"manages to be both entertaining and thought provoking as it explores the complexities of contemporary urban relationships.
When • Reviewed Friday, Jan. 13; continues Mondays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Jan. 28, with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.
Where •Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 South University St., Salt Lake City
Tickets • $25 to $44 with discounts for students and groups. Call 581-6961 or visit http://www.pioneertheatre.org for tickets and information.
Running time • Two and a half hours (including an intermission)