Review: Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde, a new play by Matthew Ivan Bennett and directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff, is presented by Plan-B Theatre Company and performs February 24 through March 6 at the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts.

In this new play, Mr. Bennett introduces us to two estranged sisters, Tabitha and Tamara (played by April Fossen and Christy Summerhays, respectively). They have just climbed into a kiva in Mesa Verde State Park, Colorado to, as Tamara hopes, commune with the Goddess and heal Tabitha’s cancer. Tabitha’s not buying what Tamara’s selling and the two begin to argue, reliving their personal tragedies of an ailing and bitter mother, unhappy relationships and heartbreak. The Goddess (played by Teresa Sanderson), meanwhile, tries to commune with them as much as they are with her. The Goddess steps into their memories, filling in as their mother and lovers. The play is a hallmark to these actresses talents and an honest and frank discussion of illness and the pain it causes to everyone, not just the victim, but those close to her as well.

The set, designed by Randy Rasmussen, is wonderfully simple, a raised circle with a round lattice backdrop, that when lit becomes the sun. Likewise it is elegantly lit with lights designed by Jesse Portillo and is hauntingly scored by Cheryl Ann Cluff. All of this helps to bring our focus onto these three women, and their struggles.

Part of Plan-B’s mission is to produce socially conscious shows, and in bringing awareness to cancer suffering, it succeeds. However, unlike their recent offerings like Wallace, Amerigo and She Was My Brother, this play is so clearly much more intimate and personal to the author. We are taken into these people’s lives and we know their experiences are unique to them. We are given a window into a family’s pains and we’re allowed to watch. This is naturally startling, yet comforting at the same time.

The level of honesty and intimacy that Cluff was able to create with these three women is truly beautiful to behold, with  stand out performances given by April Fossen and Teresa Sanderson.

Sanderson not only played an aloof Goddess, but also their mother and lovers. In fact, her performances as Tabitha’s boyfriend and Tamara’s husband were absolutely believable. I could see each man clearly in her portrayals, right down to the way he must have dressed and stood. This performance was likewise punctuated with Sanderson’s portrayal of their mother, an ailing woman with multiple illnesses and withered bitterness. Again, I could so clearly see her, I could even imagine her convalescent bed.

Fossen once again gives us so much emotionally on stage. As a woman who is both aware that she’s dying and yet is in a state of denial over it, her inevitable break-down is heart wrenching.

I’m not sure what was going on with Summerhays’ portrayal of Tamara on the night I saw the show. She seemed to be holding back and didn’t quite match the other women emotionally. A line towards the end of the play, where Tabitha accuses her of hiding her feelings behind her philosophies made me wonder if her holding back was an intentional choice. If so, what I lacked seeing was her making that choice. Perhaps her strongest scene was where she was portraying Tamara as a teen, arguing with her mother. Where I really wanted a stronger emotional investment, when her husband was being cruel, it unfortunately just wasn’t there.

That being said, it did not diminish the audience from absolutely loving this show, and feeling as if they knew the sisters personally. This is, once again, a show you don’t want to miss. By last count there were only about 100 tickets left, so don’t drag your feet. Unlike a film, you don’t get to wait for this one to come out on video. Once it is over, it’s gone.

Mesa Verde, presented by Plan-B Theatre Company, performs February 24 through March 6 at the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets available online at or by phoning 801-357-ARTS.

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