SALT LAKE CITY — Did you know that according to Portfolio.com, Provo is listed as the least fun city in America? Are you aware that a student in a Park City school had a life threatening peanut allergy but local parents protested a peanut ban? In addition, Weber School District banned an incense that is completely legal. These are just a few events that have occurred in Utah this past year. Other events include two gay men arrested for a public kiss on the cheek, a touring Broadway production forced to change a line in the show, and a community upset that the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Rent was being produced at Judge High School. Note that none of the students, parents or Judge community protested this – only people not involved.
The first 30 minutes or so of Plan-B’s And the Banned Slammed On, Bill Allred (x96) and Doug Farbizio (KUER) discussed the above and other events that happened in Utah over the past year. I found this to be the most entertaining portion of the evening. Following this, we entered the Slam portion.
In the past, Slam and And the Banned Played On were two separate productions. The idea behind Slam is to gather together playwrights/directors/actors and write/rehearse/perform 5 original plays in a 24-hour period. Banned has been an evening of recounting incidents of censorship within the past year. Last year was the first year that Plan B combined these two events. This year, I completely enjoyed the portion that was reminiscent of And the Banned Played On. However, the Slammed portion left me wanting.
On Friday evening at 8:00 PM, 5 playwrights were randomly given 5 topics based on Utah Censorship events. They spent the next 12 hours (and I assume a lot of caffeine) writing 10-minute plays to be preformed by 3 actors the following night. Around 9:00 AM on Saturday morning, the directors, actors and production team took over. Twelve hours later, they were preforming the shows for us. What followed was fun and interesting. Simply being part of 5 productions that did not exist 24 hours earlier was exciting.
The first production was written by Matthew Ivan Bennett titled Staged. This show was inspired by the recent banning of a line from the Broadway touring show of Avenue Q. I felt that the intent of the show was to use satire to bring attention to the ridiculousness of censoring a playwright’s words. Bennett certainly did a great job with the idea that censorship detracts and minimizes the true meaning of the work. However, in this case, I think the idea of strength becoming a weakness took effect. The overuse of drawing out things that could be censored left me wanting to censor this play. The acting was fine, but was overshadowed by the uncomfortable content. The direction (Tracy Callahan) was done quite well.
Next up was Spice by Debora DeVos. Have you ever heard of incense being banned? Well apparently the Weber County School District banned a legal incense because it has similar effects to marijuana. Mind you, 7 airmen were recently discharged from Hill Air Force Base for use of the same substance. Again, this is legal incense. The play focused on 3 teenagers writing for a school newspaper. They are breaking this story and they were trying to come up with a headline. Perhaps it was the content Devos had to work with, but I felt this one fell a little flat. I did think that the male actor in this production did a wonderful job. Again, maybe because the content wasn’t something they couldn’t sink their teeth into, but I felt that the other actors struggled with their lines. It was obvious that there was not a lot of time to prepare. However, I loved the fact that there were young actors in this production. While not polished and perfect, it was refreshing to see them part of such a professional event.
My favorite, albeit the most quirky show, was Nuts (inspired by the Park City Nut ban) by Julie Jensen. The writing, acting (Mark Fossen, Stephanie Howell, Deena Marie Manzanares) and direction (Alexandra Harbold) all came together wonderfully. The acting in particular (by all three actors) was the best of the evening. Unlike some of the other productions, you would have never known that these actors only had a few short hours to settle into their parts. Nuts proved that 24-hour theatre can be done and done well. Fossen’s stage presence was amazing and Manzanares (whom I recognize from Plan B’s recent production of Amerigo) performed wonderfully. Nuts was rather abstract and I may have completely missed the meaning, but that is what I enjoyed about it. For me, it showcased the idea that just because people are doing something and everyone keeps saying that it is okay or right, it doesn’t mean that it’s not entirely nuts. I like Jensen’s ability to step outside of the nut ban itself and creatively play on being nuts (the Brown Shoe actors were clearly insane). I am looking forward to seeing more work by Jensen.
Next was PDA by Jenifer Nii based on the two gay men arrested on LDS church property for a kiss on the cheek. Actually, they were officially arrested for trespassing – you decide. This was an interesting concept of having Ann Coulter pair up with Gayle Ruzicka (local Eagle Forum leader). In this show, a shock collar is introduced by Ruzicka as a way to shock gay people when they have thoughts about those of the same sex – therefore pointing gay people out in public. The story quickly spun out of control with Ruzicka confessing her love for Coulter and an assistant passed out because the shock collar went crazy and shocked too much. I don’t have a lot to say about this one because it didn’t leave me feeling much either way. The concept was original and the acting was okay, it just didn’t reach out to me.
The last production was a fun piece by Tim Slover, a local Mormon and former BYU professor. This is important because the premise of MoTube (based on the recent allowance of YouTube on the BYU campus) is a game show pointing out all the rules or guidelines that BYU has implemented over the years. Everything appeared to be fair game; from the rule that men couldn’t wear sandals unless they wore socks to women only being allowed to have one piercing in each ear. The two contestants were amazing and settled into their roles brilliantly. The direction (Kay Shean) was great and I loved how they moved around the stage. This was a fun piece and a great way to end the evening.
While all the shows may not have registered with me, it was a fun evening and I look forward to going back next year. Perfect or not, I am still amazed at what the playwrights, actors, directors and production team were able to come up with in a short amount of time. The unknown and energy of it is enough to have me show up again with the hopes of finding another treasure like Nuts.