Scott Bronson has been a strong presence in Mormon Drama for a few decades nows, the pinnacle of his work being his drama _Stones_ (which tells two intimate stories about Abraham and Isacc, and then Christ and his mother Mary). He has tirelessly advocated the cause of Mormon Drama. With Thom Duncan, he started the glorious (but now dead and gone) Nauvoo Theatrical Society, whose one impressive, but short lived season was centered solely around Mormon plays. And now as the Artistic Manager for the Brinton Black Box Theater at the Covey Center in Provo, Utah, he has been slipping in work by Mormon playwrights amidst the other plays performed there. Thankfully, he hasn’t been too shy to include his own, including great performances of Stones, Dial Tones and now Every Day a Little Death , which closes Saturday, May 2, 2009, at the Covey Center.
Although not as strong as its predecessors Stones or Dial Tones, yet Every Day a Little Death , still shows why Bronson is still a vibrant and powerful voice in the Mormon Theatrical Community. Intimate vignettes from the lives of a couple who we follow throughout the play (labeled simply “Him” and “Her”), the play is a thoughtful, philosophical meditation on the little… and big… ways we confront death in our day to day lives.
Despite the gravitas of the subject matter, Bronson sets up the scenes to be seem to be about “nothing important.” By that I mean that they’re the day to day conversations we have in the car, at the movie theater, on an odd first date, or in the bathroom. Some of them lead up to or follow something “important,” such as a miscarriage or a funeral or a proposal. Seemingly, however, most of the moments don’t seem to be all that important. But, as Bronson notes in the program: “That’s only true if you believe really important things occur only in conjunction with big events…. I believe that the truly important moments of life are hidden in the mundane.”
Although this focus on mundane moments was generally a strength in the play, it did create a couple of points of weakness, where the stakes and drama of the piece limped on for several moments (despite the excellent acting throughout the piece) before it gained speed again. But, for the most part, the intimacy this approach took was worth the few weak moments.
There were two scenes within the play that rose above the general excellence of the others and became simply riveting in their effectiveness. One dealt with the after effects of a miscarriage early within a pregnancy of the woman, and the man comforting her (sometimes ineffectively) in the wee hours of the morning. The emotional immediacy and vulnerability in this scene was powerful. The second happened when the man and woman start talking in a boring movie (where they are the only ones there) about the possibility of re-marriage, if one of them should die. This scene reminded me of actual conversations I’ve had with my own wife.
Before I continue, I can’t praise both actors in the play (Fallon Hanson and Elwon Bakly) enough. Even if the writing hadn’t been as good as it is, the play would have been worth seeing just to see these two in action. They were paired together in Bronson’s previous romantic dramedy Dial Tones , and continue to create a great chemistry in Every Day a Little Death just as they had in their previous pairing. I’m starting to see them as the Mormon Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Hanson was especially effective in this production, reaching deep into a powerful mix of emotional vulnerability and sly wit. Having worked with Fallon before in my own plays, and considering her a good friend, I was disappointed to hear that this may be her swan song in Utah, as she plans to move to California. So this may be the last chance to see the final Utah-based performance from Hanson for quite some time. If you live in Utah, make use of this chance, as I put Hanson on the short list of the finest actresses I have had a chance to see perform live in the area. Bakly also puts in a wonderful performance, as always. He is a Bronson regular, having performed as Christ and Isacc in every production of Stones , as well as opposite Hanson in Dial Tones . Always putting in a solid performance, he is one of the finest actors performing in the area.
The directing was also excellent. Once again, Bronson makes magic with what very little is provided for him at the CoveCenter’s Brinton Black Box… which is really not much more than a big room with stage lights and chairs (I must say, though, that the Covey Center should find a way to dampen the sound that streams into the blackbox from the performances in the large theater). But directors like Bronson and Kimberly Luke Mellon have made great use of the space, which is one of the reasons why the Covey should count their lucky stars to have Bronson managing that space.
One of the fun directorial additions to the play were the slide shows of “Him” and “Her” between each scene. With character, humor and a nice dash of sweetness, they added rather than detracted from the play. And it was a smart way to cover costume changes.
Although I don’t believe it lives up to Bronson’s previous work, Every Day a Little Death is a well wrought play, displaying many of Bronson’s wonderful, characteristic qualities. Bronson hovers close to the line of oversentimentality, without ever crossing it, which creates a genuine emotional experience in nearly all his work. Philosophically, Bronson doesn’t believe in subtext in his work– his themes can all be found in the dialogue, discussed freely and openly by his characters. Ironically, however, this is not a weakness, as he does display subtlety, restraint and naturalistic dialogue, which brings the philosophical nature of his characters into a very real and wise place. Bronson is one of the great playwrights of Mormonism and I try to take advantage of the chance to see his work whenever I can.
If you live in Utah Valley, or even Salt Lake Valley, take the advantage of seeing this beautiful piece of the small moments life– and death. The play is in its final week at the Covey Center, so be sure to get tickets for its final performances next Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Tickets can be purchased at http://www.coveycenter.org/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=47&s_id=179