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Utah theater company to stage a golden-years hookup

Published April 22, 2014 9:41 am

Stage • SLAC production of David Kranes' new "A Loss of Appetite" reunites friends in a story about two widowed retirees miscommunicating toward a connection.
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On the eve of an Arctic Circle cruise, Utah playwright David Kranes was inspired to start a new play for two actor friends when he just happened to eavesdrop on a couple at the next table. The woman was effusive about their upcoming cruise, while her companion responded in the most minimal way.

That struck the writer as an interesting tension and prompted him to create the characters of Ellie and Ross in "A Loss of Appetite," a one-act play about what happens at an awkward first dinner between a 60-something widow and widower who happened to meet randomly at a flower shop.

On the surface, it's a story about miscommunication and loneliness. But as fans of Kranes' work know, that simple plot also puts down deeper roots in exploring the human desire for connection.

"You see in both of them a darker side of their psyches, which they reveal to each other," says Anne Cullimore Decker, who plays Ellie.

And it's funny, while dramatizing the remoteness of older people, who often feel marginalized, says Patrick Tovatt, who plays the recalcitrant Ross.

The one-act play offered an opportunity to pair two of Kranes' longtime friends: Decker, a former University of Utah colleague, and Tovatt, a Broadway ("Copenhagen" and "Proof") and soap-opera actor ("Another World" and "Search for Tomorrow") now retired to Oregon.

The three-day run serves as fundraiser and a reunion at Salt Lake Acting Company, Kranes' longtime artistic home.

The company will offer tributes on Friday and Saturday nights to the Utah writer for his body of work, which includes seven novels, two short-story collections and more than 40 produced plays. The show is directed by Robin Wilks-Dunn, who has directed several of Kranes' plays and readings and studied with him while earning her MFA in directing at the U.

Wilks-Dunn describes Ellie as someone who reaches out, while Ross, rather belatedly, takes the hook. "I see it as a lovely journey for two people in later years in life, and that there's always hope and always a chance for a human connection," she says. "It's such a rebirth for them in their later years, but [the conversation] takes turns that neither one expect."

Tovatt describes Ross as a man in denial, whose retreat is cut off by Ellie.

Decker describes Ellie as "impulsive, pushy, aggressive and vulnerable," a woman who was alone even when her husband was alive. As Kranes says: "I would suspect that in her life with Thomas she didn't get to fully sing her aria."

Tovatt, Decker and Wilks-Dunn all bring a longtime knowledge of Kranes' work to this new story. For Decker, Kranes' dialogue is distinctive for the meaning found in the pauses of the character's unfinished sentences and unfinished thoughts. "I think it's his way of making the audience a participant with what's going on onstage," she says. "It could be said in many ways, if it were finished, but the audience will finish it."

For Tovatt, the pleasure is in Kranes' weaving of character and language. "David is a terrific master of the American idiom, using it almost as a musician or a composer would use it, with all kinds of wonderful twists and turns," he says.


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Trying to hook up, the old-fashioned way

P David Kranes' "A Loss of Appetite," a fundraising production at the Salt Lake Acting Company.

Where • 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City

When • Friday-Saturday, 6:30 p.m. reception, 7 p.m. tribute and performance; also 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday; Sunday, 1 and 6 p.m.

Tickets • $25 ($20 for subscribers); all performances are sold out, except a 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday