Wasatch Theatre Company’s Dinner is a Meal I’d Never Want to Eat From a Play I’ll Never Forget

dinner14By Jennifer Mustoe and Craig Mustoe

I’ve been in a lot of plays and I’ve attended and often reviewed many, many more. There are some performances (like many movies) that I see and discuss a bit and then never think of again. Such is not the case for the current thought-provoking production of Dinner, written by English playwright Moira Buffini. Because last night’s performance had a gathering (“Just Desserts” plus pizza–two nods at the play’s text), hubs and I had the opportunity to talk about the play with the actors and director and with some of the audience members. I even talked to the woman taking the tickets. Hubs and I talked about Dinner on the Trax ride to our car parked at Salt Lake Central, on the ride home, and this morning. We will be talking about it for a long time. Dinner is that kind of show.

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It is difficult to give a short summary of the show, so I will include the themes as we go. As the name suggests, it is about a dinner party, given by the beautiful socialite Paige (played with brittle humor and rage by Stacey Jenson) in honor of her philosopher husband Lars’ (Nicholas Dunn) best-selling self-help book, Beyond Belief. The book’s title alone should tell you that this play is serious (supposedly), but darkly comedic as well–very dark. Paige gathers a group of people to celebrate Lars’ success: the artist Wynne (a self-proclaimed erotic artist(?)) who was supposed to be escorted by her politician lover, but he had just left her for a woman named Pam; the scientist, Hal (Daniel McLeod), accompanied by his “news babe” second wife Sian (Alyssa Franks); the unexpected guest Mike (Carlos Nobelza Posas), whose van crashed in the ditch and Paige insisted he stay to dinner to fill out her table; and the silent waiter (Gordon Dunn.)

Hampered by fog, a metaphor (which just about everything is in this play), the guests trickle in, harried by the weather and being late for the dinner. Things ensue. Angry things, painful things, shocking things, hilarious things. But the humor is often the ouch kind. None of it is lighthearted. I was in an acting class years ago and remember a teacher explaining how hard it is to do biting humor and how hard but wickedly funny it is for the audience. Dinner, with its remarkably talented cast and director, has this in abundance. Every character gets their humor. And every character has a secret.

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That’s really all I want to say about the plot. I’m concerned that no matter what I say, it’ll be a spoiler of some kind. But really the meat of the play is about themes: what is it we really believe in? Do we believe in God? According to Lars, we don’t or shouldn’t. But then Paige said she’d love it if Jesus came to dinner. Does Lars believe what he wrote about and made so much money on? Then why, when things got very tough, didn’t he practice what he preached? Do we believe in love? There is none between long-married Paige and Lars and they spend the entire dinner party bickering then all out howling and swearing at one another. Do we believe in honesty? Then why did Mike do what he did when he crashed the party? Do we believe in beauty transcending all? Then why did Wynne talk about who were haves and have nots in England? Do we believe science can answer many of our questions? Then why did Hal speak so condescendingly about his chosen profession? Do we believe news is just necessary bits of information to be shared easily to make people feel better? Then why did Sian keep so many secrets to herself, from the way she demeaned Hal’s suicidal first wife to her other secret? And what was the purpose the entirely silent waiter? What was his character trying to say to us without speaking a word?

As you can tell, there are many themes in Dinner. This is all to the good. As much as we’ve discussed this play, with every conversation, we discover more.

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The set, designed by Kit Anderton is so simple–and brilliant. The entire show takes place in the dining room, around a table. So we can see each dinner guest’s face, the back of the space is floor to ceiling mirrors. Those people with their backs turned as they sit at the table can be seen in the mirror. I. Loved. This. The table is dressed with fancy table settings–this is a big deal.

Because Paige is known for her fancy, much sought after dinner parties, when she decides to serve really disgusting, inedible food, we the audience as well as her guests know something is terribly wrong. The reasoning behind her food choices are explained with such wicked delight by Jenson that we somehow see the “correctness” of it. Just how did she help us understand primordial soup, live lobsters brought to table, and frozen waste for dessert? Jenson’s biting, controlled, furious realism.

As I said, there is fury in this play–lots of it. Everyone has anger and anguish. Each character explodes at one point. Alyssa Frank’s tirade about being a sexpot is heart-rending and validating. Lars’ fierce defense of his book and his complete hatred for his wife cuts you in half. So sad. So pointless. So hurtful and hurting. Hal’s guilt about his first wife and his apologetic view of his profession made me the saddest–I felt his pain deeply. Mike’s description of his second-class life, his philosophic brilliance that goes far beyond Lars’ superficiality is poignant and devastating.

Each actor performed brilliantly. I was able to speak to all of them at the gathering afterward. Each told me that they felt very cohesive and had put everything into this production. Director Jim Martin, whom I also spoke to, wrung everything out of these actors and I could see the dedication, passion, and slight exhaustion after this performance. It was brilliant. One more thing–all the actors did a great job with British accents. I’m something of a dialect snob, so this meant a lot to me.

Let me say that this is not a play for children–far from it! This play may not be for teenagers. There is a ton of profanity and the discussions, topics, and furious, profound emotions are best reserved for adults. However, I suggest every adult who loves theater and wants a show to talk about for a long time should see this show. I insist.

Wasatch Theatre Company is celebrating their twentieth year and is very excited about their long-standing success and their upcoming season. As always, because they are a non-profit, they are actively asking for donations and support. This is a theatre company that deserves this support.

If I have anything negative to say about this show, it’s that the relatively small black box theater had far too many empty seats. This show should have a packed audience every time it plays. Dinner has a relatively short run, so don’t delay.

Dinner by Wasatch Theatre Company

April 21-May 7, Friday and Saturday 8:00 PM, Sunday 2:00 PM

Wasatch Theatre Company
Performing at The Rose Wager Performing Arts Center
138 West 300 South, Salt Lake City

Call (801) 446-5657 for information.

Ticketing Information:
www.arttix.org

email: wasatchtheatre@hotmail.com

 

 

Terrace Plaza Playhouse’s Sister Act is a Heavenly Production

By Sonya Anderson

Sister Act at Terrace Plaza Playhouse in Ogden is heavenly from the start and divine to the finish.  From the opening song to the finale, this play is full of fun.  I overheard someone say at intermission, “I’m laughing my guts out!”  I agree.

But first, let’s talk about the theater and employees.  This is a small, homey theater with a great staff.  They were friendly, welcoming, and helpful.  I attended on opening night, April 21st, with my 15-year-old daughter Ashlyn and her friend Savanna.  We immediately felt at home when we entered.  We enjoyed seeing the many pictures of past casts in the lobby and noticed that many of the patrons were welcomed as friends who had been there before.   There is a concession stand with reasonably priced candy and drinks.

The history of the theater begins 25 years ago when Beverly Olsen, a longtime Wasatch Front performer and producer, decided that she wanted a theater of her own.  She and her husband, Blaine found the opportunity in the form of a neglected, former grocery store in Washington Terrace, UT.  Together with their family and friends, they transformed this grocery store into the Terrace Plaza Playhouse.  Although Beverly passed away in 2005, her husband and daughter, Jacci, carry on Beverly’s legacy through their care of the theater.  The theater was officially renamed Beverly’s Terrace Plaza Playhouse (BTPP) in her honor.  BTPP was recently designated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution, which means that they can now accept tax deductible donations to support the Playhouse.  If you are looking for a worthy cause to donate to, I would encourage you to consider donating here.  The theater is comfortable but in need of renovations, and supporting a local, family business that provides so much enjoyment to the community and has such a long history, is a cause we can all feel good about contributing to.  Donations will gladly be accepted at the Box Office.

Now, on to the show.  If you’ve seen the movie, Sister Act, written by Joseph Howard, then you know the story.  For those who haven’t experienced the hilarity of this show, here’s a recap.  When up-and -coming disco diva, Deloris Van Cartier (Olivia Lusk), witnesses a murder committed by her agent/boyfriend, Curtis, she is put into protective custody.  She is placed in a convent, which is the last place that anyone would think to find her.  She clashes with both the lifestyle and the strict Mother Superior, but bonds with the friendly nuns.  She uses her musical talent to inspire the currently un-heavenly choir, and soon they are singing like angels and drawing people to the struggling convent.  However, her cover is blown by the publicity that the choir receives, and a hilarious chase ensues.  The nuns come together in a strong sisterhood to protect Deloris, aka, Sister Mary Clarence, and discover that they are stronger than they ever imagined.

Lusk was born to be on stage!  She captured the audience with the opening song, “Take Me to Heaven,” and never let us go.  She has a powerful voice and a commanding stage presence.  She really shines on the high parts while singing, but seemed a bit out of her range on some of the low parts.  She is a convincing actress.  I was a little worried that I wouldn’t enjoy anyone besides Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris, because that is a big habit to fill.  But I soon connected with Olivia as Deloris, and never gave another thought to Whoopi.

Eddie, the good cop who has had a crush on Deloris since High School, was hilariously played by Casey Stratton.  He was both Ashlyn and Savanna’s favorite character.  He was the perfect combination of  brave and terrified, self-depreciating and cocky, unsure and in control.  His performance of “I Could Be That Guy” was both tender and hilarious.  He was at home on the stage and so endearing that you couldn’t help but love him and hope he would get the girl at the end.  (You’ll have to go see the show to find out if he does.)

Curtis, the main “bad guy”, played by W. Derek Hendricks. His cohorts, Joey (Andrew Oliverson), Pablo (John Richardson), and TJ (Erik Hawkins) were the villians that we all loved to hate.  Each of them played their part perfectly, and provided lots of slapstick comedy.  They have all got great moves and voices.  Their spotlight songs, “When I Find My Baby,” and “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” were crowd favorites.

Pat Lusk was perfectly cast as Mother Superior.  I felt her frustration at having to leave behind long-held ideas of how things should be done, and felt of her desire to just do God’s will.  She was perfectly pious, humorously human, and entirely enjoyable as the leader of the nuns.

The nuns–what can I say about them to accurately portray how amazing they were?  Even being all dressed alike, they were each individual stars with their own personality.  Sister Mary Patrick (Melissa Platt) is open, friendly to the point of being goofy, and endearing.  Sister Mary Robert (Katie Jones Nall) starts out as timid as a church mouse, but ends up with the courage of a lion when she finds her voice.  Sister Mary Lazarus (Sherri Folkman) was hilarious, and her rapping skills are spot on.  Each of the nuns was amazing.  Brilliantly played by Breanne Hendricks, Carla Zarate, Susan Wilhelm, Emily Richards, Rachel Duffin, Margaret Simon, Ginny Spencer, Holly Lowell, Heather Holliday, Kelsey Radle, and Jamila Lowe, they were the icing on the cake.    I had no idea that nuns could move like they did in “Sunday Morning Fever.”    “Good to Be a Nun” got everyone involved and “Raise Your Voice” almost made me want to be a nun. Many of them played multiple roles and excelled in all of them. The music director is Misa Findlay and her singers really did a great job!

Matt Burt seemed a bit nervous as Monsignor O’Hara, but shined as the DJ/Monsignor and brought a lot of humor to that scene.  Dale Bowman played a quadruple role of Ernie, a cab driver, bar patron, and cop and did great in all roles.  Even these smaller roles were important to the overall success of the play.

Director Leslie Richards should be proud of the production.  The set (Leslie Richards) were minimal, giving the stars the opportunity to shine. Sets were changed quickly and with no disruption. The costumes (Jamila Lowe (who was the fabulous wig specialist), Jim Tatton, Tami Richardson and Jacci Florence were religiously wonderful. Choreography by Ginny Spencer was great–and added to the entertainment.

This play runs at Beverly’s Terrace Plaza Playhouse, located at 99 E 4700 S in Washington Terrace, from April 21st-May 27th. Shows are Friday, Saturday, and Monday nights starting at 7:30 PM.  Ticket prices range from $9-$14.  You can visit their website at http://terraceplayhouse.com for more information and to purchase tickets.  This play is quite family friendly, with a few swear words and some very mildly suggestive dance moves.  The audience was a good mix of all ages, and all seemed to enjoy it.  Next up is Annie, starting on June 9th, so make sure to plan to attend that one, too.  After seeing the caliber of Sister Act, I am a fan and look forward to returning in the future to enjoy other quality productions.

 

Anything Goes at UVU is De-Lovely

By Larisa Hicken

Anything Goes at UVUThe UVU Department of Theatrical Arts for Stage and Screen’s performance of Anything Goes in the small Noorda Theater in Orem, Utah is delightful.

Anything Goes is a classic Cole Porter masterpiece of silly romance and comedy that allows you to escape into the early 1930s on board an ocean liner. Anything Goes is full of cheesy one-liners and double entendres as characters try to talk their way out of a tight spot. The show is definitely not kid-friendly material, but there’s nothing too over-the-top risqué in this production.

This silly love story is about Billy Crocker who has fallen in love with a debutante, Hope Harcourt, whom he met in a taxi. When he discovers she’s boarding the same London-bound ship that his boss and friend Reno are boarding, he sneaks aboard the ship himself. Unfortunately, Hope’s mother has arranged an engagement for Hope to a stuffy British aristocrat named Lord Evelyn to restore the family fortune. With the help of other passengers, including a couple of barely disguised gangsters, Billy seeks to capture the heart of his dream girl – all without getting caught by his boss.

Since all of this hilarity takes place on board an ocean liner, the production team has a real challenge in squishing this typically huge show into the small Noorda Theater at UVU. The set (designed by Stephen Purdy) isn’t lavish, but it’s pleasantly functional and provides some nice levels for story telling.

The director, UVU resident artist Rob Moffat, uses the space well and does a nice job keeping the story moving forward at a quick pace (almost too quickly during a couple of scene transitions). The character interactions are delightful and clever. In particular, the songs “You’re the Top,” and “Friendship” stand out as terrific examples of mini stories that make the silly characters more tangible and loveable.

Excellent blocking is supported by choreography that is quite “de-lovely.” Choreographer Raymond Interior has created movement that exactly matches the capability of the dancers and adds a lot of dazzle to the musical numbers. The show starts right off with the Charleston which actually looks easy when performed by this talented cast. The much anticipated tap number “Anything Goes” is high-energy fun and “The Gypsy in Me” is simply spectacular.

The dancing and characterization in this production are closely matched by the great singing. For the most part, every actor in the show has a nice voice and is fully capable of knocking the audience over, (as proven by the ending notes of the show) but sometimes the actors seem to be just a little bit too “careful” in their harmonies. A touch more confidence would make great singing into fantastic singing.

Anything Goes at UVUThe role of Reno Sweeney is played by Briana Hulme. Briana is a beautiful young actress with a strong stage presence and a lovely voice. At times she has some trouble switching between her different vocal registers, but she is a powerhouse singer and has terrific chemistry with Tyler Fox as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh and Ardon Smith as Moonface Martin. She portrays a sincere and sensitive Reno with a lot of spunk.

Carter Walker plays an endearing Billy Crocker. There are a few moments where Carter could “cheat out” a bit to face the audience more, especially in the beginning of the show. His facial expressions are awesome, but sometimes hard to see in the first few numbers. His vocal inflections and characterizations are definite strengths. His singing voice is rich and strong, and once his vocal range expands a bit more, I expect this actor to be a regular on the local stages.

Carter has some really cute moments with McKell Peterson as Hope Harcourt. McKell plays a demure and graceful Hope and her sophistication is just right for this role.

Standout performances are given by McKelle Shaw as Erma and Tyler Fox as Evelyn. Both actors deliver high-caliber, polished and professional performances. Their comedic timing is flawless and their physical movements are hilarious. Both actors have exceptional voices and facial expressions and keep the audience enthralled every moment they’re on stage.

The actors are supported by excellent costume design by Lara Beene. It’s not every day you get to see actors take a bow wearing only their unmentionables, but it almost seems natural in this show because the costumes are so perfectly aligned with the characters and story.

If you can find your way through the construction, this show is worth the ticket price. Anything Goes at UVU is a delicious show with delightful actors and de-lovely storytelling. You’ll get a kick out of this fun production!

Anything Goes performed by UVU Department of Theatrical Arts Production

TICKETS
$12.00 – $16.00
Seating commences approximately 30 minutes prior to performance. No one under the age of 8 admitted, including babes-in-arms..

DATES
Fri. April 14, 2017 – Sat. April 29, 2017

LOCATION
UVU Noorda Regional Theatre

DIRECTED BY
Rob Moffat and Amanda Crabb

The SCERA’S My Fair Lady is a Loverly Way to Spend an Evenin’

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By Jennifer Mustoe, with Juli Robinson

My Fair Lady is a musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion–the story of a Cockney flower seller who gets a complete make-over by a misogynist confirmed bachelor Linguistics professor. It is a love story of sorts, but what really is fascinating is as the flower seller, Eliza, learns how to speak, she learns about herself, as well. She blooms like the flowers she sells. The professor, Henry Higgins, begins to grow as well, as much as can perhaps be expected in the Edwardian era the in which the story takes place.

Director Chase Ramsey creates a lovely, familiar panorama of sound, costuming, sets, and passion. What is most striking in this show is the fabulous ensemble cast Ramsey has assembled. Each one had amazing character–facial expressions, movement, interaction with others, and timing. It lent so much color to an already fascinating and delightful show.

Eliza Doolittle, played by Mindy Smoot Robbins, has the biggest challenge in that she begins as a Cockney lie-dee (sound it out) and becomes a poised, well-spoken lady. Robbins did a fabulous job–her singing, dancing, and character were all spot on.

Henry Higgins, played by SCERA favorite Marvin Payne, was as blustering and bullying as we expect and love. His voice is great and he commands the stage (and Eliza) whenever they are together.

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Col. Pickering, Higgins’ colleague (sidekick), played by Marc Haddock, was a great foil for Payne’s Higgins.

Costumes by Kelsey Seaver were magnificent. This is a costume heavy show and she outdid herself. I couldn’t wait for each scene to see what hat each character would wear. Of course, the black and white scene was dazzling.

Music director DeLayne Bluth Dayton did a fabulous job. Each song was spectacular. I didn’t hear a missed, flat, or sharp note. The blending of the ensemble voices was especially wonderful. I found this even more true during the opening “Loverly” when there was an a capella bit–no clinkers whatsoever. It started the show so well, I couldn’t wait for each number after it.

Scenic artists scenic Sarah Thornton, Rebekah Campbell, Naomi Smith, and Aubrey Smith gave the actors a beautiful space to work in. I was transported to Edwardian England and it was lovely. (Or should I say loverly?)

The SCERA tech crew, lighting and sound, always do a great job and this performance was no exception.

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There were a few stumbling lines, as can happen on opening night, but they were picked up quickly.

The only ‘negative’ I can say in this review is the show is long. Be ready to be there a while. For this reason, I would suggest you bring kids age 12 and up, especially those who are big musical theater fans. But there is nothing in this show that is offensive or inappropriate for all ages and in fact, this is a great show for families.

My Fair Lady

The SCERA Center for the Arts (indoors) 745 State St, Orem, UT 84058

801-225-2787

Appril 14-May 6 @ 7:30pm on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays $10-$12

SLAC’s Hand to God is Almighty Powerful

By Joel Applegate

Hand to God (Nominated for five Tonys and Winner of the Obie) is more than just having fun tweaking a religious nose. American Christianity in its current form gains traction by saying there’s a “war on religion.” But it’s the opposite. For generations now – with antecedents in the Eisenhower administration – religion has been warring on the rest of us. The result: Psychosis, un-earned guilt, poverty of spirit. This is what playwright, Robert Askins, puts me in mind of in this light-seeming “parfait”, anchored by big themes of self-identity and God.

Combining an hilarious script with skilled puppetry, the ensemble turns Sunday school into a foul-mouthed, colorful parade of personal demons. The hand puppet, Tyrone (worse for wear), under actor Riley O’Toole’s control, is a bonafied character of its own, and the antagonistic source of revelation and violence. Tyrone’s prelude to the play drew impulsive applause from the audience.

The premise has Sunday school teacher, Margery (played by SLAC veteran Alexandra Harbold), instructing the kids on puppetry, using them to entertain – if not enlighten – the parochial congregation with their scripted Bible stories. Tyrone has his own say in this. These “Christ-Ka-Teers”, as their pastor (Daniel Beecher) calls them, are at first gentle ribbers of America’s dumbed-downed religious doctrines. Tyrone explodes these hypocrisies in a storm of vicious bombs.

One of the Sunday school kids is blond Timothy, played with stark assurance by Nathan Vaughn. Tim loves his Sunday School teacher, Margery – I mean, really loves her. Margery is also the object of desire for Pastor Greg, whose barely masked carnality doesn’t fool Margery. His “offering of self” replaces true ministry. But it is Harbold as nearly-manic Margery who calls the shots. After rejecting the pastor’s advances, Margery sees through to herself, too, allowing Tim to seduce her, but only on her terms – amounting to child abuse in a court of law – never mind that it’s entirely fueled by Tim’s hormones.

As if this wasn’t complicated enough, Jason, Margery’s son, is also in the classroom. (I’ve always imagined Sunday Schools in basements because that’s where mine was, and Gage Williams’ flexible set certainly reminded me of it again.) Jason’s mom really just wants to be left alone, with her dark recesses intact under a mask of propriety.

But it’s Tyrone calling the shots for Jason. Robert Askins (in the audience with us for opening night) wrote program notes about the various interpretations that have been staged around the country. Is Jason suffering from personality disorder? Is he possessed by the devil? Is the puppet?  Is Tyrone, being a dark-side ego, Jason’s bully? “We’re all we got” Tyrone tells Jason. After the hilarious first act climax, is Jason really left with a demon limb? Will there be an exorcism in Act Two?

As Act Two opens, it is the Pastor who has to face Jason and his scratchy sock  persona, Tyrone. This could be a thankless role for an actor – just a liberal meme – but Daniel Beecher handles it because we see him forced to drop his holy posture, become human and meet his parishioner, Margery, where she lives and not where he wants her to be.

And  it is Beecher as Pastor in one of the few quiet moments, who jump-starts Jason’s awakening when he tells Jason he must decide “who comes out of the room” – the boy or the puppet. It’s been debated before, but Hand to God posits the old question, did humans invent the Devil because we need him as a counterpoint?

About Jason. In the interest of set-up, I’ve buried the lead. He’s the real boy – again played by O’Toole – with the puppet, Tyrone. Early on, they demonstrate agile expertise with the old “Who’s On First” routine. The crucial lynchpin upon which the play develops is Tyrone as an extension of Jason, both physically and, more importantly, psychically, an eerily convincing feat of craftsmanship.

O’Toole as Jason is intense and vulnerable all in the same performance. By the end, he has at last crossed a boundary that we hope he never has to breach again. The role of Jason/Tyrone is a gem for any young actor, and in the hands of O’Toole, it’s a tour-de-force. I doubt I will ever see another actor handle both sides of a personality with such deftness and clear separation. If this young man is not to become a force to reckon with in the acting world, I’ve missed my guess by a mile. He gives us the one performance this year Salt Lake audiences should not miss.

I love SLAC. I’ve never seen a performance there that didn’t fail to elicit belly laughs first, followed by thoughtful reflection. See it by May 14th.

Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC)

168 West 500 North
Salt Lake City, Utah 84103-1762
Box Office: 801-363-7522

Box Office Hours: Monday – Friday: 9AM – 6PM, also Saturday/Sunday during run of show: 12PM – 9PM

$30 for single Adults. Call for other pricing or go online:

Online: www.saltlakeactingcompany.org

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CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s Oliver! is Filled with Sweetness and Beauty

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By Jennifer, Craig, and Caden Mustoe

Oliver! based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, first appeared in 1960, ran successfully on Broadway, and was made into a movie several years later. CenterPoint Legacy Theatre now brings this mega-hit to Utah in fine style. It’s the story of a young boy who begins life at the workhouse, is sold to an apprenticeship, ends up in a thieving group, then ends–wait. That’s a spoiler. See the show and  you’ll know the ending.

Because the show is double cast, we reviewed the MWF group. As actors, we know what it’s like to see your name in a review, so apologies to the TTHS cast. I’m sure you’re just as brilliant.

The part of Oliver Twist, played by JT O’Reilly, shows off this young man’s incredible voice. O’Reilly looks the part with a waif-like face and sounds the part, as he sings like an angel. It’s a big stage, and this young actor does a good job. Surrounded by the many orphans (11!), Oliver starts the show with a bang and a fun dance number, choreographed by Sarah Martin. It’s hard to get a bunch of wiggly littles all to dance on cue, and this bunch was darling.

Stand out performances are Brandon Smith as The Artful Dodger. This young actor was dedicated to his character the entire time. With every movement, every mannerism, every Cockney word of his dialogue, I was absolutely transfixed. This kid has got it and I hope I can see him in many shows to come. Fagin, the leader of the thieves, played by Scott Butler was flawless. We especially loved him in the number about “Reviewing.” Watch what he does on the stairs–we laughed out loud. But he, too, was so comfortable in his character, his movements so smooth–I couldn’t stop watching what he did with this hands. They were never quiet, but very in character–not distracting. Emily Wells’ Nancy was great. Her solos were lovely and bawdy and she played Nancy with equal strength and vulnerability.

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Director Liz Christensen had her hands full with this big production and did a fantastic job. The tableau created in each scene is lovely.

Scott Van Dyke’s sets are fantastic, as is usual at the CLT. Jennie Richardson’s costumes were sumptuous. Absolutely gorgeous. Lighting (Darren Maxfield) and sound (Alyssa Evans) were professional and done perfectly. It’s always nice that even on opening night, tech is perfect.

Because this show has some ‘unsavory’ characters, CLT chose wisely to make this show completely family friendly. Nancy and her friend are prostitutes, who are wactched over by their abusive pimp. You do not see this in the show unless you already know the story. The costumes do not show this, the staging does not. Considering the audience at last night’s performance, I completely support this decision. Gobs of little kids were in the audience. However, there is one violent scene and it is toned down enormously, but if you have children who are easily frightened, you’d better pass on this show.

All in all, I recommend Oliver! I watched many happy faces leaving the theater, old and young alike.

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Oliver! at The CenterPointLegacy Theatre

525 N 400 W, Centerville, UT 84014

4/14-5/13/17 M-Sat 7:30 PM

Tickets: $19.50-$25.50

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PG Players’ Production of The Curious Savage is Both Humanely Humorous and Powerfully Poignant

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By Mahonri Stewart

If their production of John Patrick’s The Curious Savage is any indication, the Pleasant Grove Players are an unheralded gem in Utah’s community theatre circuit. With expert directing; a strong, talented group of actors; and sensitive handling of a gorgeous, funny script; this cast and crew have much to be proud of. Seeing The Curious Savage so wonderfully enacted by this talented community group certainly made me want to support future productions of the PG Players.

The Curious Savage is a play I have heard people rave about for years, but which I had never had the chance to see until now. On multiple occurrences, I heard theater friends cite it as one of their favorite plays. It seemed to garner a particularly fervent following among the Hale Centre Theatre regulars and producers. Now I can see why the play inspires such devotion.

The story’s premise starts with a widowed Ethel Savage (played with great grace, intelligence, and wry wit by Lucy Bradford) being placed in a care home (The Cloisters ) for a group of lovable characters with mental illness, psychological trauma, and mental disabilities. The problem is that she has no such disorder, the plan being hatched by her stepchildren to lay claim to the fortune that they believe she is throwing away by producing bad, non-profitable plays and (the more pressing issue) a Foundation that is set up to fulfill “foolish” whims and wishes, and run by a board of common people rather than businessmen and celebrities. No sane person, Ethel’s step-children rationalize, could have all that money and throw it away on such whims and fancies. Fortunately, the staff and psychiatric patients of the home have grown very fond of Ethel and desire to support her in her resistance against her greedy and powerful family, which include a senator, a judge, and a six-time divorced socialite and celebrity.

Premiering in 1950, John Patrick’s script taps into universal truths that are as relevant now as they were over a half century ago. The story reminds me a lot of the classic, black and white Frank Capra film starring Gary Cooper, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. That story, too, had the good-hearted heir to a fortune persecuted and suspected of mental illness for wanting to give his money away to the needy. That central idea behind their persecution, that selfishness is sane, is what the protagonists of both stories so valiantly fight against. Oh, and how such a message is applicable to our current cultural climate!

As to the psychiatric patients in the story, it would have been very easy to play each of the idiosyncratic characters broadly and stereotypically. John Patrick warned about this temptation in his forward to the play: “It is important in The Curious Savage that the gentle inmates of The Cloisters be played with warmth and dignity. Their home is not an asylum nor are these good people lunatics. Any exaggeration of the roles will rob them of charm and humor. The whole point of the play is to contrast them with Mrs. Savage’s children and the insane outside world. To depart from this point of view for the sake of easy laughs will rob the play of its meaning.”

As a father, uncle, and cousin to people with autism of varying severity; having seen mental disability and mental illness in other loved ones, ranging from depression, to bi-polar disorder, to anxiety, to Down’s syndrome, to possible schizophrenia; and having seen signs of, possibly, undiagnosed ADHD or high functioning autism in myself; John Patrick’s point is a very important one to me.

There is no problem, in my mind, of finding the humor in mental illness—like any kind of humor, truth can be told just as well with a laugh as a cry. A lot of what my loved ones with disabilities do and say is legitimately funny. But there is a balance. Much like other plays that deal with mental illness, for example The Boys Next Door, it would be oh-so-easy as an performer or director to allow stereotype and caricatured acting to stifle the nuance and humanity that comes with such conditions. The stigma of mental illness persists in pernicious ways due to such insensitive portrayals.

For example, my wife Anne and I have discussed the wild and excessive portrayals of mental illness in Batman’s rogue’s gallery (and Batman himself) and how it may impact our son’s viewing habits and how he sees his own atypical neuroability. As much as I love Batman, like really love him, and allow my son to watch the cartoons, read certain comics, etc., we make sure that it is balanced with discussion about such portrayals, and how (often irresponsibly) far they stray from reality.

Fortunately, this cast had no such issues with their portrayals. Each of the actors playing the residents of The Cloisters Home used skilled subtext, multiple layers, and sensitive subtlety in their characterization, playing their motivations and tactics with penetrating understanding rather than broad strokes.

Julie Roundy’s portrayal of Mrs. Paddy, who seems to suffer from selective mutism, was extremely effective in her physicalization and vocalization of the character, bringing both gentle humor and pathos to the character.

Kimberly Raine’s portrayal of the child-like Fairy May, who is also a compulsive liar in constant need of praise and love, was a delight to watch, bringing exuberance and optimism to the character.

Kristen Leigh Metzger effectively plays Florence, who has a doll which she treats as if it were her lost son. Metzger achieves some stirring moments of emotion in the mostly tragic role, punctuated with moments of keen humor.

Richard Dover’s character Hannibal was of particular interest to me, as he showed signs of the autism so prevalent in my family, but of a particularly high functioning variety. In the play, Hannibal is a genius with numbers who can calculate large numbers in his head. Hannibal was a statistician professionally, until he lost his job at the rise of the electronic calculator. He, like some of the other characters, had shown the ability to live in broader society, if they were given the proper support and found the right role. He did not only live in it, but he excelled in his field.

It’s an important insight in the play—how much value do we place in the supposedly (and selfishly) sane and neurotypical, but who are deeply destructive to society (embodied by Ethel Savage’s stepchildren, the senator Titus, the cosmopolitan Lily Belle, and the judge Samuel, played with verve respectively by Jason Evans, Charlie Fuller, and Paul McNiven)? Then, in contrast, how much value do we place in the supposedly insane, but who are often harmless and often have the great potential to contribute?

Another representative in that category is the character of Jeffrey, played by Dallin Bradford. Jeffrey suffers from PTSD and a kind of amnesia, stemming from his time as a soldier in World War II. I won’t spoil his story too much of his story—he could have been an evocative subject of his own play—but he was a standout among standouts. One of my favorite performances of the night, Bradford played Jeffrey with such sensitivity, such tragic detail, and such talent that I wanted to just hug the character and find a way through the mists of his mind so that he could return home. Yet, authentically, Patrick gives us no such easy answers for these characters and their struggles.

Finally, to round out the cast, we have Becca Ingram and Dennis Purdie, playing the staff members of the Cloisters Home, Miss Wilhemina and Dr. Emmet. Becca Ingram proved herself a powerfully capable actress, showing great nuance and discipline in her performance. She also proved that one doesn’t have to be showy to be a great actress, as she incorporated gentle confidence, expert detail, and humane feeling into Miss Wilhemina. Her performance is a class act.

Dennis Purdie also showed a great deal of professional restraint, proving that less is more. His Dr. Emmet did, indeed, seem like many a doctor and quiet professional that I have met. A smaller, but very important character in the play, Purdie provided a sense of realism and steadiness that stood in appropriate contrast to the more colorful personalities of the other characters. That steadiness made his final, impassioned defense of his patients near the end of the play all the more powerful since it was a moment he had earned with previous balance and equilibrium.

The production team—from Jessica Holcombe’s costume and prop design to Kathryn Little’s period appropriate sound and music design to the uncredited set and set dressing—all did well, especially as it was evident that PG Players is a smaller organization with limited resources. But those resources were certainly enough to put on a tight, beautiful play.

This great cast were obviously pulled together with talent and skilled orchestration by the directors Kathryn and Howard Little. In full disclosure, I know Kathryn well, and have worked with her on a couple of my own projects, and she proved then, as she and Howard continue to prove now, that they are consummate professionals. In a small theater in the basement of a small-town library, with limited resources, they took a classic play and a talented cast, and put them to proper use. Brava, Bravo, to both of them, for granting their storied histories as theatre artists and consecrating that talent to the good of their community. And it is evident that their community responds in turn, as the opening night was completely sold out. Whether you live in Pleasant Grove or live miles and miles away from that lovely little city, this play is worth your time and support. I came away from the production deeply impressed, deeply touched, and deeply edified.

The Curious Savage is playing at the Keith Christenson Little Theatre in the basement of the Pleasant Grove Library, 30 East Center Street, Pleasant Grove, UT; (801) 922-4524. The show plays Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, with a Saturday matiness on April 29th at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $10 for adults and $9 for students and seniors over 55. ($1 less for the matinee.) Seating is reserved and tickets may be purchased online at pgplayers.com. The box office will be open for current and future sales on performance nights from 6:45 pm to 7:30 pm. There is a 2 for 1 ticket offer (promo code “TWOFER”) on the opening Friday, April 14, and Saturday, April 15, evening performances. Discounts may not be combined.

        

Westminster College’s Blithe Spirit is Fun and Veddy Worth Seeing

blithe spiritBy Cindy Whitehair

There are days when I believe that I was born in the wrong era.  I tend to enjoy the music of the 30’s and 40’s more than I do current music.  Which is why I jumped on the chance to review Westminster College’s production of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.   Written in 1941, during World War II, this supernatural comedy is a perfect, light-hearted distraction from the daily grind.

Charles Condomine (Tyler Palo) and his wife Ruth (Daisy Sherman) asked the local medium, Madame Arcoti (Viviane Turman) to conduct a séance in their home as research for his next book.  They have invited their friends, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Tage Gould and Briony Denker), to be their guest.  The séance has unexpected consequences – in the form of the ghost of Elvira Condomine (Sierre DuCharme-Hansen), Charles’ late wife.  Things go about as well as you would expect when you have two women vying for the affections of the same man.

The Westminster Theater is a lovely venue and well-appointed for a show set in the late 30’s/early 40’s.  The set (by Nina Vought) was exactly what you would expect a formal living room in an upper class British home should look like.   The music played before the show, during the show, and at intermission were absolutely perfect and set the mood to perfection.  Costume designer Erin M. West did a wonderful job – especially for the quirkiness of Madame Arcoti.  The hair/wigs for the women was also a highlight – especially for Ruth Condomine.  I was very pleased to see that this show included a dialog coach (Mandi Titcomb) and it showed.  The actors accents were, for the most part, perfect.  The lighting design (Spencer Brown) was creatively used to help give Elvira her ghostly visage.  The special effects (yes, special effects – this is a ghost story and yes – things get broken!) by Harrison Corthell were fun, too.    The make-up (Chloie Greenberg and Vanessa Vega) was really the only mixed bag in this show – the ghost make up was tremendous!  I can’t rave enough about it.  However, the middle-age make up for Dr. Bradman was perplexing.  I don’t know what they were trying to do, but it was distracting to say the least.  But all in all, this show was well done technically.

I have seen this show done a few times now and I must say, I really enjoyed the directorial decisions that Melanie Nelson made – especially with Charles and Madame Arcoti.  Many times, Charles is portrayed as this ramrod spined Brit with no emotion and Madame Arcoti is over the top eccentric.  In this production, Madame Arcoti was a little more subdued (but still wildly eccentric) and Charles had more than a few wild moments – which you would expect for someone who has his ghost wife living with him and his new wife!  He was allowed to have emotions and (sometimes) be just a little physically comedic (a style that suited Mr. Palo well.)

Blithe Spirit is a show about women and the women really shined in this production.  Sierre DuCharme-Hansen was delightfully coquettish as ghostly Elvira and Daisy Sherman’s Ruth ran the emotional gamut that one would expect a woman in this situation would go through.  Viviane Turman was an absolute treat as Madame Arcoti.  But there is one person to keep your eye on.  The person who is at once key to the story but is supposed to be “invisible” – house maid Edith (Katelyn Limber).  She works hard to be the good, unobtrusive servant, but her nature just keeps getting in the way!

Blithe Spirit is just an all-around fun show – a great escape for a few hours.

Westminster Theater presents Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.  Performances are Thursday, Friday & Saturday through April 15, 2017.  Tickets are $10.00 online and at the door.  The theater is located at 1840 South 1300 East in Salt Lake City.

https://www.westminstercollege.edu/campus-life/events-and-performances/theatre-arts-performances/blithe-spirit

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Disney’s The Lion King at the Eccles Theater is Royally Spectacular!

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By Kendra Hill

Disney’s The Lion King at the Broadway at the Eccles is spectacular! I have only praises for this show. The play brings depth to the story and the characters that you don’t get from watching the movie. While it stays very faithful to the movie and the original screenplay, there are additional songs and dialogue that add a new dimension to the story. This is a great opportunity to see it presented this way on the stage, and I highly recommend you going to get tickets NOW if you don’t have them yet!

If you are unfamiliar with the plot, it is the Hamlet of the African Savannah. The king (of the jungle) is killed by his evil brother, who is then crowned king. The young prince knows of his uncle’s treachery, and struggles with the knowledge. Simba (Hamlet) eventually becomes king, but not before he goes through harrowing trials.

The actors are all top notch. The children who played Young Simba and Young Nala had so much energy and enjoyed being on stage. I have seen shows where children get bored halfway through the performance, or become distracted. That was not an issue here. They both were adorable and did a wonderful job.

Gerald Ramsey (Mufasa) and Sophia Stephens (Sarabi) brought great heart to the performance. I will admit I was worried I would miss James Earl Jones’ deep voice, but Ransey was amazing! He was a wonderful father, and I really felt a connection to his character and the love he had for Simba.

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I loved watching the adult Nala (Dashaun Young) and Simba (Nia Holloway)  and was particularly impressed with their voices. When Young first comes onstage, he only has a couple of lines to sing, but he definitely ends Act 1 on a wonderful note (haha, see what I did there?) and really makes you excited to see the rest of the show after intermission. Also, when Holloway and the lionesses sang their song “Shadowland” it was very powerful and made me really feel ‘woman power.’ (I may or may not have pumped my fist and told my husband, ‘that is how you do it.’) Good job women! You rock!

Zazu (a red-billed hornbill who serves the king) was played and puppeted by Drew Hirshfield. This character is lots of fun, and much more comical than in the movie. It was very enjoyable to watch and listen to him, and the puppet was just as much a character as the actor controlling it.

One couldn’t help but loathe Scar (played by Mark Campbell) as he plots and wreaks havoc on Pride Rock. Prideful and murderous, Campbell makes you want to hate him. 

The three wicked hyenas (Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Keith Bennett, Robbie Swift) were the perfect trio, and played homage to the Disney movie.

Pumbaa and Timon were a great jovial pair who really brought a lighthearted, fun aspect to the show that really helped juxtapose the wasteland that had become Pride Rock after the death of Mufasa. Pumbaa played by Ben Lupitz, and Timon, while usually played by Nick Cordileone was played by standby actor Tony Freeman. The puppets for these two were amazing! And the actors did a wonderful job not only in performing their characters, but in using their puppets.

While all of the actors in this production are absolutely incredible, there is one in particular that really stood out to me and wowed me with her performance. This was Buyi Zama as Rafiki (a mandrill who plays a Shaman-like character.) She has an amazing voice, and really devoted herself to the character. She had a great sense of comedy, but also had a great feeling of authority as a wise woman and storyteller.

While there were many amazing aspects, one thing that stands out in particular are the amazing costumes and puppets. The actors were able to control many different parts of their costumes, from heads, eye movement, limbs, mouths, and more. They are all very detailed, and really match the movement of the animals they represent. Tony Award-winning Julie Taymor is the director, costume designer, mask/puppet do-designer, and more. Her vision really comes through, and wow, is it amazing.

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Most of the sets appear quite simple, but often move, or have unseen elements that come out later in the scene. They make great use of the sets to tell the story, and give it additional movement. They also use many of the curtains as pieces to help draw the eye, and create more interest, which I really enjoyed.

The music draws you in and really helps you feel the emotion of the characters and the story. A lot of African rhythms and language are also used and really drive the amazing beats. I loved every single song, crafted by Tony-award winning artists Tim Rice and Elton John.

One of my favorite parts of the whole show was the dancing, choreographed by Tony-award winning Garth Fagan. It was INCREDIBLE! I also loved that they not only used it during dance breaks, or songs, but when characters would feel intense emotion they were often express it through dance. I especially admired the use of traditional African dance. Not only was it amazing to watch and experience, it gave The Lion King one more layer of authenticity.

Probably the best part of the whole play for me was the culture that blazed throughout the whole show. Beautiful colors engulf you in every scene, the makeup and costumes have amazing designs and patterns, and the dance (as mentioned before) has a great tribal feel. African languages are even used throughout the show, alongside English. These are things that we don’t often get to witness in Utah, and it was amazing. I was truly transported to the other side of the world.

One word of warning, if you have never been to the Eccles Theater before, do not search The Eccles Theater on Broadway on your phone GPS, but search for The Eccles Theater. We were sadly late because that location is an office about a mile away from the actual theater. We missed the opening number (which I bet was so amazing) and also spoke with others in the lobby who had the same thing happen to them. The address to the theater is 131 Main Street in Salt Lake City. Again, even though it is advertised as Broadway at the Eccles, DO NOT use that title to navigate on your GPS or phone.

This show is completely appropriate for children, but because curtain is at 8:00 PM, I’d advise bringing older children, tweens and up, so they can stay awake, enjoy the show, and not get fussy or whiny. There is PLENTY to enjoy!

Disney’s The Lion King at the Eccles Theater

131 Main Street, Salt Lake City (801) 355-5502

March 23 – April 16, 2017. Curtain times vary, so check the website.

Week 1: THUR March 23 at 7:30PM, FRI March 24 at 8:00PM, SAT March 25 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM, SUN March 26 at 1:00PM & 6:30PM

Week 2: TUES March 28 at 7:30PM, WED March 29 at 7:30PM, THUR March 30 at 2:00PM & 7:30PM, FRI March 31 at 8:00PM,SAT April 1 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM, SUN April 2 at 1:00PM & 6:30PM

Week 3: TUES April 4 at 7:30PM,WED, April 5 at 7:30PM, THUR, April 6 at 7:30PM,FRI, April 7 at 8:00PM,SAT, April 8 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM,SUN, April 9 at 1:00PM & 6:30PM

Week 4
TUES, April 11 at 7:30PM,WED April 12 at 7:30PM,THUR April 13 at 7:30PM, FRI April 14 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM,SAT April 15 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM, SUN April 16 at 1:00PM

Tickets start at $35.00

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The Grand’s “Streetcar” Offers a Beautiful Journey into an Ugly World

 

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By Ashley Ramsey

Tennessee Williams once said, “What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.” And there may be no better example of those curving roads then his play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Streetcar tells the story of Stella and Stanley Kowalski whose lives are turned upside down by a visit from Stella’s sister, Blanche DuBois. Blanche, who has been in charge of the family estate, reveals that it has now been lost. As Blanche’s tales of back home begin to unravel, so does Blanche’s mental state. Escalated by the unfamiliar and strangeness of the New Orleans French Quarter, Stella’s overbearing husband Stanley, and a string of cleverly-crafted lies, Blanche desperately tries to cling to the sanity that slowly slips from her grasp.

Streetcar has found its way into American culture (Thank you Marlon Brando…Stella….STELLA!”) and is a story familiar to many. Forget what you know, because director Mark Fossen has created a one of a kind, standalone staging of Streetcar. Part of The Grand Theatre’s American Classic series, this familiar story is given new life through creative staging, lights, music, and a brilliantly casted ensemble. From the moment you enter the theatre, you are swept into the noisy and lively streets of New Orleans. The two-story set by Halee Rasmussen is lovely and captures the feel of a young couple starting out. Oftentimes throughout the show, we are given glances into the private moments of the characters’ lives through the use of silhouettes. Rasmussen collaborated with Lighting Designer Spencer Brown to produce a seamless and effective method of storytelling. Brown’s lighting design tells a haunting story on its own and is well worth the cost of a ticket.

It is once in a great while that a truly brilliant ensemble piece is featured on Utah stages, but this is one of those pieces. Each character is thoroughly and carefully crafted with such realism that oftentimes the audience feels as though it has stumbled into somewhere they should not be. Private lives on display for your voyeuristic viewing pleasure. April Fossen’s portrayal of Blanche doesn’t stop from the moment she enters the stage. Her energy seems to burst off the stage and almost smother you as she pulls you into her world. Keeping pace right along with her is Anne Louise Brings’ Stella. Brings has layered Stella in such beautiful way as you watch this new bride and soon-to-be mother try to balance all that she loves in her life. Brings does a beautiful job in connecting with those she shares the stage with. Her portrayal of love becomes almost tangible with her onstage husband, Stanley, played by Robert Scott Smith. I have never loved and hated a character as much as I did Smith’s Stanley. He pinged back and forth, the only source of sanity on the stage and other times the instigator of the insanity. When watching other productions, I could never understand why Stella goes back, but in this production, I did. Smith takes you a devastatingly emotional journey as you watch a man come to grips with the chaos his young family has suddenly been thrown into. The ultimate protector, at the end of the show you find yourself still thinking maybe, just maybe Stanley is the good guy. And possibly insanity is contagious and really no one can judge a single person on that stage for what has happened, for they have all gone mad.

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Other noteworthy and beautiful performances are Lonzo Liggins’ Harold Mitchell (Mitch) and upstairs neighbors Vicki Pugmie and Andrew Maizner as Eunice and Steve Hubbell. The entire cast should be praised on such raw and beautiful work. While many cast members assume the smaller roles within the production, they are a part of the many storytelling techniques used by the director which make the show what it is.

Mark Fossen’s brilliant concept engulfs you into a world you cannot escape, but one that you don’t want to. It is important to note that you will find no sugarcoating of the difficult and adult themes of the show. Instead, Fossen challenges you to face them head on and get out of yourself. I could talk about it forever, but to say much more would deny you the experience of what this cast and crew have created. I find myself mentally wandering through the curvy mountainous roads of this production over and over since I went to see it. It is rare that productions like this surface. The Grand’s latest production is one of the best pieces of theatre I have ever seen. I have lived in London and LA, traveled to New York, but rarely does theatre speak to me on the level that this show did. With any production there are always the little things to nitpick, but what they are doing with this show far outweighs any need for that. I hope you will let them take you on this journey.

A Streetcar Named Desire plays now through April 1st at The Grand Theatre with shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays with curtain at 7:30 pm and two 2 pm matinees on March 25th and April 1st. Tickets start at $16 for regular admission and $14 for Seniors.

The Grand Theatre 1575 State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84115

Phone: (801) 957-3322

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