SALT LAKE CITY — The Audacity is a one-woman play written by Jenifer Nii and starring April Fossen. It was meant to be produced in front of a live audience at the Plan B Theatre in Salt Lake City, and then the twin catastrophes of COVID-19 and the earthquakes of mid-march have caused the closure of Salt Lake and surrounding areas to all of live theatre. When the request came in to review a streaming of this production before the opening of this streaming for audiences the first week of April, I jumped at the chance to support artists who are finding ways to both continue to create and to find ways to share their talent with those of us who are practicing social distancing in our homes.
The Audacity follows the lives of Elizabeth, Josie, and Ann Bassett, who lived in a small cabin in Eastern Utah and ran a cattle ranch. Fossen plays several characters that interact with each other to tell the story of these women who stand up to the patriarchal traditions of the land and who maintain their own livelihoods in the face of criticism and resistance. Intermixed within this story are modern day experiences of another character who stumbles upon the story of the lives of these women and the strength they embodied. Through this intermixing, the play shows how their challenges are not so different from the challenges that women face today. It is a fantastic look at how the challenges that women faced then and today were different and yet the same.
Fossen is a delightful actress and managed to portray a variety of characters with such ability and precision that it was inspiring. Something I was intrigued by was that it almost seemed as though her physical appearance altered as her characters switched, showing how well she switched between each of the different personalities. This switch was done without costume changes or hair changes and was just the way that Fossen carried herself and utilized her voice and expression. It was intriguing to watch. At one moment she was the kind voice of the Relief Society neighbor of the Bassetts, then the strong, confident, yet overly anxious modern day forensic accountant, and then a moment later she was the strong Basset women. Fossen never missed a beat within her acting, and with a full hour without anyone else to play off, not losing energy or focus takes an amazing amount of focus and energy. Director Jerry Rapier did a superior job of helping Fossen maintain her drive throughout the entire show.
The set was a small cabin that is meant to look like something seen in a historic park. Set design by Cara Pomeroy was absolutely beautiful, and while I ache to be back in a live theatre, this production being provided in my living room was a salve to a wounded soul. The mountains behind the cabin reminded me of the many drives I have been on in my life growing up in Utah, and I really wish I could have seen this set in person.
As for the story, Nii has done something I can say I have longed for. As I have read history books recently, I have wondered a lot about the stories that are left behind, about the quiet narratives that are left out because the narratives that are given are often through the eyes of men. This production shows a history of my heritage, my people, my land, from the people about whom I have always wondered and their experiences: the women who settled the land. The juxtaposition of adding a reflection of how these experiences parallel with the challenges of today were poignant and timely. I especially enjoyed the cross-section of how the Mormon settlers interacted with the Bassetts, because it seems those stories are often left out of the other narratives that are given. This narrative was so human and empathetic. Fossen was the perfect choice as an actress to take Nii’s words and bring them to life.
Times are different for the theatre world. I am not sure I will ever be one who will enjoy streaming as much as I enjoy sitting in an audience, feeling a playbill in my hand, and having an experience with others in attendance. However, at this time, I must express my appreciation for artists who take their time and talents to be innovative in their approach in bringing their talents to help others have beauty, entertainment, and intrigue during times of trial. Fossen and Nii have certainly done so with The Audacity.