Today, Utah Theatre Bloggers and Plan-B Theatre Company announce the 2016 recipient of the Critical Writing for the Arts Scholarship. Special thanks to Salt Lake Acting Company and Pioneer Theatre Company for their additional support of the scholarship.

The winner is chosen in a two-stage process.

First, applicants must submit a review of a local theatre production. These writing samples are read thru by UTBA staff and up to nine finalists are selected to move forward.

During the second stage we send each finalist to a professional theatre production hosted at one of three Equity theatres in Salt Lake City: Plan-B Theatre Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, and Pioneer Theatre Company. Finalists submit a written review within 48 hours. All submissions (after having names removed) are then critiqued by a group of adjudicators representing UTBA, Plan-B, SLAC, and Pioneer.

Each of our six finalists were phenomenal. We look forward to seeing their continued excellence at the colleges/universities they represent.

Our Finalists: 

  • Ashley Horrocks (Westminster College)
  • Samuel Baird (Brigham Young University)
  • Barbara Camara (University of Utah)
  • Mark Macey (University of Utah)
  • Tori Sicklick (University of Utah)
  • Sierra DuCharme-Hansen (Westminster College)

Here is the winning review:

BASED ON A TRUE STORY by Elaine Jarvik exemplifies muscular writing. The show, produced by Plan-B Theatre Company, rides a sound and satisfying structure through to its end. The design leads with eye-popping projections and lighting as well as a set ready to adapt to the whirlwind of places and times the play travels through. The acting, though occasionally timid and strained, ultimately finds its rhythm and makes for a wonderful night at the theatre.

The play itself revolves around the story of a woman thrown forward in time grappling with the impossibility of returning to her husband and her life in the past. It is, however, as much an exploration of the perils of time travel as it is an exploration of the perils of choice. An earnest reminder of what it means to know that the clock never stops ticking, BASED ON A TRUE STORY condemns and celebrates that weird thing we call existing with laughs along the way.

In structural prowess, Jarvik earns bragging rights. The play is not only elegant in its function but powerful. It boxes and jabs with itself, and just at the height of the action, Jarvik pulls the rug out and provides and ending hoped for but not yet imagined. She is a righteous trickster. Here, something must also be said for the plays of rhythm within the show; what a triumph! The dialogue is dynamic and pleasing, and moreover it gives the performance a backbone and supplies both the actors and the audience a vehicle on which to move through the play.

But the greatest achievement of all is the universe that Jarvis has given life. The elements of science-fiction in the show work because they’re rooted in a logic that is not of our world but none the less whole and coherent. Here, her universe is born, a universe slave to her imagined reason and fantastical rules. This is a universe you won’t want to miss.

Hats off to the entire design team. In a time when theatre companies are cramming special effects into any crevice they can find, how wonderful it is to see a design that is both engaging to the senses and integral to the production. The projections and lighting are exact and simple and the sparse set complements the on-the-move settings of the show. The aesthetic achieved is somewhere between the 80’s and being stuck in an Apple store… in a good way.

The actors give firm performances, but as a group they can’t seem to find a rhythm until near the end. The territory they’re exploring is certainly an unfamiliar one, and it appears as though the ensemble as a whole feels unsure about what choice is correct and so they often make none at all. This exhibits itself most greatly in the action which often feels slow or soupy. Colleen Baum (All The Other Woman) nearly breaks through these troubles with her delightful and transformative performances of several roles but still complies to the sense of disorientation manifest in the rest of the cast.

That said, the direction begins to hit the mark early on. The tensions are seen physically on the stage and the movement from action to action proves fluid. The exception to this statement is the penultimate scene in which a crowded confrontation looks messy and doesn’t build up to much. The final scene, in contrast, is one of the best and leaves the show on a high note.

Ultimately, BASED ON A TRUE STORY cements its status as taut and finely conceived, and elevates the strata of work being produced in Salt Lake. Despite some small problems in action, the show serves up some raucous laughs and agitating questions for all with the help of sleek and well-placed design. See this one, and soon. You wouldn’t want to run out of…

– written by Mark Spencer Macey

Watch your email, Mark. We’ll be in touch.