Author: callieo

“A Christmas Carol” is Delightfully Melodramatic

OREM — The stories of Charles Dickens are easily adapted to the stage, not just because he was a great writer, but because he wrote great melodrama. His novels play into our emotions of nostalgia, love, happiness, and heart-wrenching tragedy. And of all his tales, perhaps the one most suited to the stage is A Christmas Carol. A Christmas Carol is a holiday theatrical tradition in many places, but it is an especially treasured tradition in Utah. There may be many reasons for this, but I think that the primary reason is that the culture of Christian faith in Utah finds a voice in Dickens’s tale. Despite the absence of traditional Biblical characters and the inclusions of only slight passing references to church-going and the like, A Christmas Carol speaks of the profound necessity of active faith. The cast at Orem’s Hale Center Theatre, under the direction of Jerry Elison, communicates this message in a very delightful Dickensian way, focusing on character, story, and melodramatic theatricality. One of the most noteworthy aspects of the Hale Center’s annual production is that it is a family affair. Families come in droves to sit in the audience together and families spend long hours in rehearsal together on stage. The blood ties make the play all the more accessible to those experiencing it. And child actors are integral to the production’s success. What...

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A refreshing “Romeo & Juliet” at BYU

PROVO — There is nothing more wearisome in the theatre than a production of Romeo and Juliet that takes itself too seriously.  Fortunately, BYU’s production of the play, under the direction of Megan Sanborn Jones, is engaging, entertaining and smart.  It presents itself as a self-conscious observation of Romeo and Juliet’s unfortunate stage history which has led millions of would-be audience members to wrongly believe that it is the sappiest of romantic tragedies in Western literature. Taking cue from the multitude of references in the play to money and its corresponding ills, the play is set in America’s Gilded Age.  However, staging the play at this moment in history also encourages the audience to think of Oscar Wilde’s Britain and his mocking theatrical social commentary.  In fact, a Wildean character of sorts is added to the production.  Peter, played by dramaturg Allan Davis, annotates the scenes by providing information about society in the late nineteenth century in a manner that reveals how trivial, materialistic, and ridiculous it could be.  Similarly, the production’s stylization of the excessive violence and emotional romance found in Romeo and Juliet invites the audience to rethink their expectations of the play and to consider the possibility that it is, as recent scholars have suggested, as much a comedy as it is a tragedy.  In fact, laughs abound in the production, and humor is present in even the most suggestively...

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Plan B’s latest premiere: “She Was My Brother”

SALT LAKE CITY — The 20th anniversary season of Plan B Theatre Company will kick off tonight with Julie Jensen’s She Was My Brother, a song of sorts for the transgender people from this nation’s past who have often gone unrecognized and who have been excluded from history.  It is a fitting play for this task.  Well-written by one of Utah’s most talented playwrights and well-performed by a stellar cast, this is a show to see if you want to experience the type of theatre that moves your mind in different directions, that causes you to question popular assumptions regarding culture, fear, and identity.  It is a play in which history is re-examined, turned on its head, and made the object of appropriate ridicule.  Jensen poses: had it been written differently, how could history have changed now? The drama is loosely based on three historical people of Victorian America.  Matilda Coxe Stevenson, the first female anthropologist in America, is mirrored in the character of Tullis played by April Fossen.  Jay Perry plays Wilson, the character modeled after Frank Hamilton Cushing, a Native American anthropologist who spent five years living in the Zuni Pueblo in Western New Mexico. Lamana, played by Joe Debevc, is based on We’Wha, a man who lived in the Zuni Pueblo in the 1880’s and who dressed and behaved as a woman.  The play opens, as is typical of Jensen’s work, with strong character...

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New Play Project Showcases Best Works

PROVO — Last night The Best of New Play Project premiered at the Provo Theatre.  It is a festival of short religious plays, all of which had been produced by New Play Project in the past four years of its existence. The shabby little theatre exudes idealism and enthusiasm. New Play Project is a place where the energy of youth is put to most effective and fruitful work.  Scores of volunteers keep the nonprofit organization alive, as does the talent of the playwrights.  In fact, the plays really are the thing.  Do not expect intricate sets, sound, or lighting design.  It is the drama that takes center stage, and very successfully.  In fact, New Play Project boasts two Association for Mormon Letters award-winning plays for Best Drama: Little Happy Secrets (2008) by Melissa Leilani Larson and Prodigal Son (2009) by James Goldberg, which closes the short play festival. It should be noted that New Play Project’s LDS focus (dare I say mission?) is not what one might assume.  These religiously-themed plays are not staged Home Literature, recognizable for amateur construction and pious rhetoric. In fact, some of the plays are not particularly “Mormon,” and the ones that are grapple with that very identification in a very honest, humorous, and sometimes heart-breaking way.  LDS membership is not a requirement to enjoy the shows. The festival opens with Adam and Eve by Davey Morrison (directed by Alex...

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Plan B and the Utah AIDS Foundation present “The Normal Heart”

SALT LAKE CITY — Larry Kramer’s 1985 AIDS play The Normal Heart is sadly relevant and was a fitting joint venture for Plan B Theatre Company and the Utah AIDS Foundation.  The two organizations came together to celebrate their anniversaries, the 20th for Plan B and 25th for the UAF.  Sponsored by Julie Brizzee and Jane and Tami Marquardt, the staged reading was free to the public and included a cash bar.  The mood was light among the audience despite the realization that the subject matter of the play, the cause promoted by Plan B and the UAF is very serious.  It was reported that HIV cases in Utah alone have risen 30% since 2007—a truth that is as shocking as it is inexcusable. “Shocking” and “inexcusable” are words Larry Kramer likely used himself in his incredibly personal struggle to convince the gay community to speak up during the AIDS crisis of the early 1980s.  He documents this fight in the autobiographical The Normal Heart in which the character Ned Weeks seemingly single-handedly attempts to form an army of gay men to battle the oncoming AIDS epidemic while also attempting to find and keep love.  In addition to battling with his gay friends in the play, Ned also fights with the government, his family, the media, and the medical community for greater awareness and concern for those contracting what was then,...

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