Alexander Weisman
Karl Miller as Iago, left, Daniel Morgan Shelley as Cal and Keith Hamilton Cobb as Andre in Pioneer Theatre Company\'s production of \"Find and Sign,\" opening Jan. 13.

"FIND AND SIGN," Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 801-581-6961, running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)

On the heels of Martin Luther King Jr. day, it's easy to imagine that in 2012, we've all moved beyond racism, and that, at least in our own circles, it doesn't exist at all.

"Find and Sign," the latest work by playwright Wendy MacLeod, challenges those beliefs while offering a fun, romantic comedy-type story, set in the modern-day New York City hip-hop scene.

Julia is a high school teacher with a genuine interest in helping Mac, her favorite student, get in to an Ivy League college, even though he is from an underprivileged, black neighborhood. The catch is, Mac fronts a hip-hop group that has garnered attention from a record label — should he sign, he won't be able to finish his schooling. Throw into the mix: a sexy roommate, a white man in a black man's world, competition, friendships, judgment, disappointment and you've got the makings of a great world premiere, right in our backyard.

MacLeod's script is fast-moving and wonderfully conversational. The back-and-forth amongst the friends will likely sound just like conversations you've had with your own friends. Charles Morey's direction keeps the action moving forward with slick staging (James Wolk, set design) and quick on-stage costume changes (Pamela Scofield, design).

Leading the charge of the solid cast is the very likable Molly Ward (Julia). Ward's look and mannerisms will no-doubt leave you thinking of actress Tina Fey (or, more accurately, Liz Lemon, the character Fey plays on sitcom "30 Rock"). This gawkish, smart-but-awkward characterization works well for the most part. There are times, however, it seems just a bit forced, leaving one wondering why Julia is purposefully making herself less attractive.

Gardner Reed (roommate, Mona) also has moments of being forced. But overall she handles the absurdity of her character with charm (and lovely legs). These few moments will likely mellow a bit during the course of the run.

That said, major kudos to Ward, Reed and MacLeod, for creating a very memorable dressing-room scene — the banter and actions are very enjoyable and very real; a true highlight. And the conversation between the two women toward the end of the show is beautifully done.

Karl Miller plays Iago, (yes, just like the Othello character) with the right mix of the is-he-or-isn't-he a good guy — it's hard to tell. And Keith Hamilton Cobb has a wonderful, towering presence as Andre, a record label exec.

There were times one feels a bit beat-over-the-head with the racism message. For instance, is it really that racist to assume a young man might enjoy tickets to a basketball game — white, black or otherwise? Seemed a bit of a stretch for one to get too upset.

But again, maybe that is the point of the show. Can we not make casual conversation anymore? When does is cross a line? When is it racist?

You decide.

Sensitivity rating: Strong language, some adult situations