The trials and tribulations of LDS single adults are addressed with humor and compassion in “The Way We’re Wired,” running through May 29 at BYU’s Margetts Theatre.
The play is an ensemble piece, following the intertwining stories of seven singles in Indiana. A new guy, Andy (Jared Stull), a 41-year-old veterinarian, moves in and disrupts things when he starts dating the women in the group. He flirts with the self-described “skanky” Darlene (stereotypically written but three-dimensionally played by the wonderful Susan Kimberly Davis), then winds up very close with over-achiever April (Christina Davis). Callie (Emily Hutchison Geddes, perfect in this mousy, heart-wrenching role), who has recently escaped from an abusive marriage, doesn’t want to date, and the icy Amazonian Sandra (Phoebe Candland, also right-on as a businesswoman who convinces herself she doesn’t need love) turns him down repeatedly.
Stull’s likable, albeit somewhat bland, performance prevents Andy from coming across as a “player”: He’s just systematically seeking a viable candidate for marriage. We like the guy, even if we aren’t shown as much depth in him as we are the others.
And then there’s Katie (Susan Keller). The divorced leader of the singles’ group, she is also the leader of this play. She is sarcastic, intelligent and mature, and Keller is more convincing as a 30-something-year-old than anyone else in the cast. Katie is guiding her teen-age daughter Mindy (Alexa Scharman) through the pitfalls of romance with Darlene’s son Kyle (Kristopher Stout), while trying to make sense of her own life. She maintains that “the Andys of this world don’t fall for the Katies,” but she reluctantly goes out with him anyway (“Here I am laughing, and I don’t even like you,” she says after one of his jokes).
That date is pivotal, as it is where Andy explains his unorthodox views on romance. We’re “wired” much the same as animals, he says, and “love” is just a natural response to stimulus. Endorphins fire in our bloodstream, and we decide we’re “in love.”
In another key scene, the group sits around a campfire, taking turns inadvertently offending each other. (“Single adults without jobs are losers,” “Hey, I’m a single adult without a job!,” etc.) Here we see that for whatever else they are, all the characters are one thing: vulnerable. They are insecure about their lives and their single status. Some, like the frail and delicate Callie, are obvious about it; others, like Terrell the bowler (saved from a one-note “comic relief” characterization by Jeremy Selim), keep it hidden.
The play swings lamely at making the point that LDS singles shouldn’t be treated as outcasts, but ultimately never really addresses the issue. The only characters we see or hear about are the singles and their kids; for all we know, that’s all the social interaction any of them have. Why belabor the point that “singles are people, too,” when we haven’t been shown that anyone has treated them otherwise? If you want to deal with marriage-status prejudice, fine — but you’ll have to SHOW us that stigma, not just mention it in passing.
The play has plenty else to offer anyway. It’s a very funny comedy with some poignant moments, and each member of the ensemble plays his or her part with realism and dignity. The script, as it stands, may not have a long shelf-life — there are jokes about Viagra, Monica Lewinsky and Steve Young (alas, all of these are NOT mentioned in the same joke) — but its basic structure is well-crafted and thought-provoking. It’s a witty, smart, enjoyable production.
Two reasons why I envy Jared Stull in this production. First, he got to grow a goatee instead of wearing a fake one, whereas I had to wear a fake beard for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" a few months earlier, the glue for which gave me a rash not unlike those caused by the flesh-eating virus. And second, he gets to kiss three -- count 'em, three -- women in this show. Not ugly women, either, these ones.