The Echo’s Lawn Ornaments has a lot of Heart. And…Lawn Ornaments

lawn ornaments

By Jennifer Mustoe

I went to the closing night of Lawn Ornaments, part of a Writer’s Theater project at The Echo Theater in Provo. The Echo’s mission is to give new playwrights a chance to produce their works, and Lawn Ornaments, by Mark Wiesenberg, is one such work.

The first thing that happens in this funny play is Mark himself comes out and gives away gaudy lawn ornaments to several audience members. This is a fun warm up, though it went on a little long, as the curtain time was also delayed.

The plot is very simple: we have a couple, Arthur, deftly played by Scott E. Tarbet and Mildred, sweetly played by Ruthanne Bridges. Arthur is a nice husband and father, Mildred is a forgetful, funny wife and mother. They have a son, Peter, age 30, played by Adam Broud, and two children who are angels: Adam (Devin Malone) and Valerie (Lexi Barkle.) Finishing out the cast are Todd Paul Brown, whose comical, perfect timing performance as annoyed (by the lawn ornaments) neighbor Walter Peterson was the best in the show. Sarah, the maybe girlfriend of Peter is played winningly by Emily Marie Bennett.

The two things that stand out for me in this play are this:

  1. There are many really funny lines. The audience got the jokes, all of which were very real to life and entertaining. As I said, Brown’s comedic timing and nuance were excellent, but the other cast members that had jokes did well, too.
  2. The lawn ornaments. The bringing out and putting away of each piece of sh–stuff (neighbor Walter’s “word”) was pretty funny. And the variety of pieces was delightful. I would have loved being part of the gathering of these items. I have rarely seen a sillier, funner set in a show.

Director Hannah Farr had her actors moving well and the synergy was mostly there. But the play wasn’t as tight as I’d like and it was about 15 minutes too long. This is because the play needed some editing and the actors needed to pick up the pace.

This production is clearly a labor of love, as Wiesenberg’s family were behind the scenes. It was also clearly a story that came from some real life experiences that the playwright either experienced or saw. The story was very real and believable.

On the whole, the production was charming and sweet. But it was a good thing that few children were in the rather large audience. After an hour and a half (the play, with a way too long intermission went two hours and started late), I was VERY antsy for it to end.

I’d like to see more of Wiesenberg’s work. This was a good first effort and he obviously has a way with comedy.

The show closed Friday, so I’m not including any information about the wheres and whens and how muches.

The Laramie Project has a Stirring Message

laramie project

By Marnie Thomas

The Laramie Project is theatre with a message. It tells the story of a young man, Matthew Shepard, and how he died at the hands of two other young men in Laramie, Wyoming. It tells about the kind of hate that society can promote and how it can simmer within people until it boils over into murder—simply because a person is different. Matthew Shepard was gay.

The Laramie Project‘s message was clearly one that the performers all felt strongly about. It is a message that needs to be spread throughout society, so maybe the headlines will not be filled with such things as the recent crimes that have been committed in Charleston and as close to home as Delta. In the director’s notes, he shares President Obama quoting Martin Luther King. He says, “We must be concerned not merely with who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy that produced the murders”.

The play was conceived and created by Moises Kaufman and the members of Tectonic Theatre Project. This performance is free of charge and the venue is the Canyon Glen Amphitheater. The set consists of a length of fencing. It is a stark set that works well with a stark and sombre subject. The lighting comes from the gradually setting sun. The beauty of the setting is in contrast to the ugliness of the subject.

Each performer plays a number of characters. Some portray characters who are diametrically opposed to one another. It leads us to look at ourselves and those around us and ask some tough questions. While we may not be a part of the problem, are we a part of the solution?

Ryan Hopkins plays characters as varied as a news person, a Mormon home teacher and, probably the most challenging, Fred Phelps. He does it all with energy and in some cases, humor. Making the transition between each diverse character is quite a feat.

Ashley Knowles plays a minister, a news person and “Doc O’Connor”, as well as others. She portrays male and female characters with skill and emotion.

Brian Kocherhans has the daunting task of portraying both of the young men who tortured and beat—and caused the death of Matthew Shepard. We see the two different personalities of these young men in Brian’s convincing performances. He also portrays a number of other characters, including an actor, a priest and the governor.

Katrina Luthi has a very positive and upbeat way about her. In the talk back you could tell that she is very invested in this project. She is also a dramaturg, along with AJ Taysom. She portrays, among others, a judge, a waitress and a minister’s wife. Her portrayal of a police officer at the scene was probably her best.

Kaylee McGhghy has a lot of stage presence. She gives a real flavor of small town America in her performances. Her portrayal of the mother of a police officer at the murder scene is particularly convincing.

Abigail Snarr portrays both students and faculty at the university., among several other characters. She is a graceful presence on stage.

Among the many characters that Kacey Spadafora portrays, his heart wrenching portrayal of Dennis Shepard is most impressive. As he speaks to the young men who had been convicted of the murder of his son, the emotion is palpable. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

Two law enforcement officers and Father Roger Schmit are a few of the characters excellently performed by Javi Ybarra. His development of each separate character is impressive. The voices, actions and stances of each character are distinct. This makes it easy to follow each character and see them as individuals. Not a simple task, when portraying over half a dozen characters.

The cast all worked well together—although most of the dialogue was directed to the audience rather than to each other. But there was a definite feeling of cohesiveness.

Director Taylor Jack Nelson can feel legitimately pleased with his efforts. His cast stepped up to a difficult and emotional subject matter—and they did it very well. The show only performs two more times. You can see it on Saturday (June 27th) at 3 in the afternoon or at 7 in the evening. I would suggest taking a cushion of some kind, as the benches in the amphitheater are hard.

Canyon Glen Park, Utah

Discover the “Incompleat Works” of Shakespeare at The Echo

incompleat-works-01By Larisa Hicken

Incompleat Works is an original play written by local playwright, Dennis Agle, Jr.  It is being featured as part of The Echo Theatre’s Writers Showcase in Provo, Utah.

The show tells the story of several Shakespearean characters trapped in a “Groundhog Day” type existence – doomed to repeat the first act of the show forever – due to the fact that Shakespeare never finished their script.  Eventually the characters set off on an adventure to find their creator and discover the ending of their stories.

The script is quite clever and Shakespeare fans will delight in the many references to Shakespeare’s famous lines and beloved characters.  Although many of the phrases and words are reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Early Modern English, the script is written in a more natural and modern speech pattern and audience members should have no problem understanding the dialogue.

Dialect coach, Jason Sullivan, can be proud of his work on this production.  The actors all did an excellent job overall with their diction and various accents, but the best accents came from Sean Hunter.  He showed a lot of versatility as an actor, playing eight different characters throughout the night.

incompleat-works-02Jessie Lynn Pursey also played multiple roles and gave a solid performance as each character.  Stephen Gashler played the lead role of Geoffrey and I enjoyed his sincerity and passion.  He had a great look which was aided by costumer Isabelle Anderson.  There was also a nice connection with his romantic interest, Gillian, played by Hannah Scharman.

Jake Robertson provided most of the comedy as the Earl of Bedford and his timing and facial expressions were terrific.  In spite of being the comedic relief, he still managed to deliver many of the most meaningful lines of the night with just the right amount intensity.  Hailey Nebeker was another stand-out performer in the role of Celia. Her character was well-developed and believable and she really kept the play moving forward with her high-energy performance.

Nick Estrada as Rowland and Kyle Baugh as Valet also gave genuine, natural performances that helped the audience focus on the deeper meaning of the lines they delivered.  Sophie Agle was adorable as Eliza.  She has a sweet voice and seemed quite comfortable on stage for someone so young.

incompleat-works-04There were a few technical problems with the show, mainly in blocking and pacing.  The script presents a challenge with several scenes where the actors are on a journey – meaning they are actually walking around.  In a small theater, this is obviously tricky.  The director (playwright Dennis Agle, Jr.) chose to use the audience space for many of these walking scenes, which meant that a lot of the time I simply couldn’t see the actors over the other audience members or because there was no lighting on the actors.

The short scenes which take place in a variety of locations meant frequent blackouts for scene changes and it created a problem for the pacing of the show, giving it a choppy feeling which pulled me out of the world of the show and I struggled to get back into it every time the lights came back up.

I suspect that the director and stage crew were well aware of these challenges and attempted to shorten scene change time by keeping the set very uncomplicated and using a special “box” which was used in inventive ways to transform the scenes.  I really enjoyed seeing how they managed to pull off so many different effects with one simple box.  However, I would’ve liked to see the actual stage and set used to create visually interesting levels and locations.

Since this was part of a writer’s showcase, I found myself focused quite intensely on the actual script over the production aspects of the show.  Religious themes run deep which will certainly appeal to local audiences.  There were several moments where the playwright spoke right to my heart and I gained powerful insights into my own life journey.  After all, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…”

I’m anxious to see more from playwright, Dennis Agle, Jr. This is a delightful new script with a lot of potential and I would sincerely like to see it developed even further. I applaud The Echo for supporting original work by local artists.  If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, you’ll appreciate seeing the Incompleat Works.

Show Dates: June 13,16,19,20,22,25, and 27 at 7:30pm
Tickets: $8-12
Location: Echo Theatre, 15 N 100 E, Provo Utah

The Babcock’s Charlie Brown is More than Just Good!

cb2By Dallon Thorup

If you’re looking for a family friendly show both you and the children can enjoy, Salt Lake Shakespeare’sYou’re A Good Man Charlie Brown at the Babcock Theater is the production you are looking for. My mother and I went together and were thoroughly entertained, smiling from ear to ear, throughout the whole show. Everybody else smiled, too. It was that good.

Because it’s only 90 minutes in length, with no intermission, it’s perfect for kids.  You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown is a musical comedy about the beloved Peanuts characters brought to life by not so young actors. It’s a clever story that embodies the classic feel of the cartoons and comic strips we all know and love. Each character in this production did tremendous research as to how to portray each character.

It’s a very small cast: Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroder, Lucy, Sally, and Snoopy are the only characters in the show, but they bring so much life to the Peanuts world.

Snoopy (Connor Norton) did a very nice job. At first, I did notice a few people skeptical that Snoopy was a girl, but in this production it worked.

Sally (Arielle Schmidt) was super cute. My favorite moments with her were during her coat hanger sculpture dialogue, chasing rabbits, and just her full commitment to being a kid.

Linus (Matthew Stott) was the most fun, adorable, cutest character to watch in the whole show. My Blanket and Me was my favorite number, and Linus really committed to the character the whole time. I wish he was a more prominent character.

Schroeder (Wilson Hicken) turned out to be the most surprisingly fantastic character in the show. Super adorable, very fun, and the pipes that he had for Beethoven Day blew me away.

Lucy (Megan Shenefelt) was the definition of perfection as this character. From swooning over Schroeder, to teasing her brother Linus, and even telling Charlie Brown exactly how it is, she was spot on. She was the cartoon character in real life form, with the singing voice of a famous Broadway belter.

Charlie (John Yeeke) the absolute perfectly cast character, was so sad, charming, pathetic and wonderful. He embodied every quality the we know Charlie Brown to have–from his optimism to his depression. His smile when talking about particularly depressing things made you feel for him. His interactions with everyone onstage came across equally sincere and genuine. As well as his marvelous voice. You really are a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

The big group numbers in the show really were a blast to watch. The Book Report, Beethoven Day, My Blanket and Me, and The Baseball Game were just outstanding. Kudos to Musical Director Alex Marshall. This show is nothing but fun, wrapped up with a bow and delivered to the audience.  Thank you to Director Denny Berry. Your show is tops!

The costumes, by Aaron Swenson, were identical to what the characters wear in the comic strip. Super cute. Set Design by Thomas George transported us all to a gigantic playground, which makes the actors look like children. Absolutely wonderful set design. It even worked to where the band was able to hide underneath the playground set.

Bravo to the live band who were astounding to listen to. In particular, the piano player who nailed everything. Band members: Alex Marshall – Conductor/Piano , Eugene Vita Dyson – Violin/Viola, Don Buchanan – Reeds, Ryne Meese – Bass, Eric Jensen – Percussion

I highly recommend this show to anyone, even if you don’t have any kids. It’s an upbeat, uplifting 90 minutes back to yesteryear when Charles Schultz’s sweet characters were all our best friends.
June 17-19 7:30pm

June 20th 2:00pm AND 7:30pm
June 21st 2:00pm

300 South 1400 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84112


Tooele’s Steel Magnolias is Southern Sweet

smBy Cindy Whitehair

What do a successful career woman, her 20-something daughter, the widow of the former mayor and a curmudgeonly retiree have in common? They all have the same stylist at the neighborhood beauty salon. A slice of their lives, joys and sorrows are the subject of Steel Magnolias, presented by the LaForge Encorce Theatre Company in Tooele. The play takes place in Truvy’s Beauty Salon in Chinquapin Parrish Louisiana and follows the lives of Truvy (Pamela Giles), her newly hired employee Annelle (Jessenia Dustin), Clairee (Kimberly Wicker), M’Lynn (Emma Thomas) and her daughter Shelby (Sara Weber) and M’Lynn’s neighbor Ouiser (Carol LaForge.) Steel Magnolias started out as a short story based on the real-life experiences of playwright Robert Harling as a way to cope with the death of a family member.

I went with a friend of mine for a girl’s night out. We ended up getting there a little late due to road construction and not knowing where the auditorium was at the Tooele High School. However, as soon as we sat down, we were struck by the set. The set designer was not credited in the program, which is a pity, because that person deserves high praise for such a well-designed set. It truly had the look and feel of a small store front beauty salon. We were drawn in instantly. The lighting and sound were without many of the glitches and dead spots that you find in most community theatre – which is an accomplishment in and of itself. The ’80s music at intermission (and on the radio in the salon) helped keep the carefully crafted mood of the show in place. Technically, this is a beautiful show.

Co-directors Glen Carpenter and Carol LaForge did a fantastic job getting their actors to become as close as the people they were playing. You really felt like these ladies WERE best friends and confidants – not just playing the parts on stage. Everything about their actors movements on stage felt “real” and not staged.

There are simply not enough superlatives to describe the ladies in this cast. Their Southern accents were pretty spot on (I have friends in Lo-z-ana and from other parts of the South enough to know). Pamela Giles’ Truvy was the perfect mother hen to her clientele and new employee, sharing in their joys and sorrows as if they were her own. It was a treat watching Jessenia Dustin’s Annelle grow from an unsure girl who “may or may not be married because my marriage may or may not be legal” to a woman who has control of her life. Kimberly Wicker’s “Clairee” (if you can’t say anything nice….come sit next to me) transition from newly widowed to woman in her own right (remember that this was the ’80s and women of a certain age were taken care of by men their whole lives) was something I witnessed in my own mother after she and my father divorced. Carol LaForge’s Ouiser had me in stitches every time she was on stage – in part because I can almost see myself being her in fewer years than I care to admit. Opinionated, not willing to take from from anyone, and still willing and able to laugh at herself, Miss Ouiser was a scene stealer.

However, it was M’Lynn and Shelby that the story revolved around. Emma Thomas’ M’Lynn could be my friend that I attended the show with. My friend is the mother of a daughter with Type 1 diabetes and is as hyper-protective of her diabetic daughter as M’Lynn is of Shelby.  The most tender moment of the show for us was in the first act where Shelby, while getting ready for what should be the happiest day of her life (and the most stressful) crashes. My friend has seen that daily and I have seen it often enough to know that Sara Weber nailed it. It was literally like watching it happen in real life – and watching the ladies in the salon scramble to get juice and candy to bring her blood sugar back up….yeah – been there, done that.

Steel Magnolias is performing at the Tooele High School (the auditorium is at the back of the school by the football field). Performance dates are June 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22 and 23. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office and are $10.00 each.

LaForge Encore Theatre Company
Tooele High School
301 W. Vine Street
Tooele, UT.


I Want to be at the Zig’s West Side Story

wssBy Dallon Thorup

I’ve never seen West Side Story live, so for me this seeing The Ziegfeld was  a very thrilling moment. The Ziegfeld is a very nice little theatre in South Ogden with a very professional feel to it. The fresh smell of popcorn, the fountain drinks, the candy, the crowd entering into the theatre through the double doors on either side of the stage; I’m ready for a show.

For those who are unfamiliar with this show, it is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet saga, though it is between White folks (in a gang called the Sharks) versus Puerto Ricans (in the Jets gang), set in New York City. Spoiler: it ends the same as the Shakespeare play.

Set Designer Caleb Parry has created a breathtaking set: scaffolding in front of a city apartment building on each side of the stage at the start of the show. Visually I’m already blown away by this production and it hasn’t even started. The atmosphere for the show was definitely there.

wss5Act One had very memorable dance numbers, choreographed by the talented Talese Hunt, in particular, “Mambo” and “America.” Bernardo, Riff and Anita could have danced for two and a half hours and I would have been tremendously satisfied. All of the dancing in the show was phenomenal. When Tony and Maria met at The Dance it was magical. They never broke eye contact. She adored Tony. The iconic dance from the movie was kept and it was perfectly executed.


Tony (Tyler Brignone) had great chemistry with Riff. He felt like the boy next door and his acting was spot on. His scenes with Maria were electric. Maria (Brittany Shamy) was spectacular. The drive up to Ogden is worth it ONLY to see her if that’s all you decide to go for. She is the perfect Maria. John Peterson’s Riff had some of the best singing and dancing in this show. He seemed confident in all of his choices. He knows how to command a stage. Bernardo (Jamie Fuentes) was so perfectly cast! He was a natural leader on stage and commanded it when he needed it. His chemistry with Anita was so sexually charged and natural, it felt like they were a real couple. Anita (Ashley Carlson) stole the show for me. This woman gets onstage and never loses focus. She was Anita from beginning to end. Flawless. A dancing queen for this show. This production would have not been the same without her.

Act One was all about the flare, the pizzazz, the showmanship. The all-round tapping your toes and having fun. However, even with the high spirits, you know something’s going to happen. Something rather disastrous.

Act Two is where it got serious and all the actors had to show their acting chops.
The opening sequence of “I Feel Pretty “was lighthearted and fun, followed by a gorgeous version of “Somewhere.” I don’t want to spill the beans on why it was so gorgeous, but it gave me chills and I noticed several people sniffling and wiping their eyes, like I was.

After “Action”‘s show-stealing performance in which Gee, Officer Krupkee (played by Joshua Samuel Robinson) the waterworks began. Ashley Carlson and Brittany Shamy brought a lot of realness to the stage. Bravo to these beautifully talented ladies.

The ensemble blew me away. The Sharks were very good at keeping the story going. The Jets were gorgeous felt like a real tight unit. Great chemistry on stage. Joshua Samuel Robinson was the strongest male performer onstage. He was my favorite male character in the show. So honest and believable.

The only downside to this production was the sound system. A lot of the time it seemed like the microphones were not on, the monitors were not working, or the sound in general just disappeared. However, it wasn’t distracting enough to pull me away from the show. Talese Hunt choreographed some amazing dance routines. Rick Rea really got these vocals up to par. Costumer Michael Nielsen did a fine job. The costumes were wonderful. Everyone complimented each other on stage. It was modern but it worked so well. Anita and Maria had the most beautiful dresses. Director Morgan Parry has crafted a tragically beautiful interpretation of West Side Story.

West Side Story at the Zig can not be missed. I drove from Cottonwood Heights to South Ogden to see this and it was more than worth the drive.

June 5th – June 27th at 7:30pm FRIDAY / SATURDAY ONLY


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The SCERA’S Mary Poppins is Jolly Super (calif, etc etc)!

mp5By Craig and Jennifer Mustoe with help from Elena Devey

I was honored and excited to take my six-year-old niece Elena to her first live theater production. And what better choice than the SCERA’s musical Mary Poppins?

If you’ve never been to the SCERA, it’s a different kind of theater experience. There are chairs to sit in that you can rent. OR you can bring your own chairs. OR you can bring blankets to sit on the large grassy hill. There are many treats to eat. OR you can bring your own picnic. I like that the SCERA offers so many options.

The set is dark gray, reminiscent of foggy London. There are many moveable pieces–one for a kitchen (look for the dancing spoons! Elena loved those!) for “A Spoonful of Sugar” and the fantastically fun “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, the bank for the scenes with Mr. Banks, the park with some AMAZING statues (and amazing actors that can stay still!), as well as Jane and Michael’s nursery and several others. The detail of the sets is a nod to set designer Nat Reed and his team.

I had never seen the live theater production of Mary Poppins, and having watched the movie about one million times, once the familiar songs were being sung OUT OF ORDER, I was a little freaked out. But I love how the songs made sense as much as they do in the movie. Hey, I can adapt.





The costumes were nothing short of gorgeous. And so many different costume changes! Costume Designer Deborah Bowman outdid herself with this production. Sound by Kendall Bowman was good but the background music drowned out a few singers from time to time.

The dance numbers were interesting–some seemed almost like an afterthought, but some were amazing. However, the tap number to “Step in Time”, choreographed by Scott Sackett was marvelous, and in fact, all the big numbers had Elena and many other audience members clapping and tapping their toes.

mp4Josie Nilson as Mary Poppins was charming with her fun mannerisms and amazing voice. I admit, I am a huge Julie Andrews fangirl, so wasn’t sure if I wanted to see anyone do this role, but Nilson is very good and takes on this role with spirit and humor. She kindly posed with Elena after the show and made my niece’s night.

The other main cast has some great talent. Paul Black’s Bert is very watchable and fun–his voice is amazing and his movement also really added to his performance. Garrett Smit’s George Banks was one of my favorites as his transformation is really the biggest in the show. Smit takes Banks’ tightly wrapped character and ably transforms him into a loving husband and father. Bri Hintze’s Winifred Banks is delightful and she, too, had some acting chops to take her from a flighty woman of that age and time to a strong, loving, supportive wife and mother. (I loved when she put up her fists. Super cute.) The children playing Jane and Michael Banks are phenomenal. These roles are double cast and we saw Laura Randall as Jane and Maxwell Rimington as Michael. These two had some of the best accents in the show, and some of the best acting. Randall was fun and graceful and Rimington has an amazing comedic timing for someone so young. Two other standouts were Celesta Rimington as Mrs. Corry and Kelsey Thacker as Miss Andrew (the Holy Terror!). These women have outstanding voices, and both brought to their characters a perfection that really rounded out the production nicely. Sometimes it’s the co-stars that can really put your show over the top.

There was much flying that went on and it all went seamlessly. I was pretty amazed at how many people flew so many times! And every time someone popped up in the air, Elena’s eyes got huge and you could hear the crowd get pretty excited. It was pretty awesome.

Elena loved the dance number with the toys, especially the teddy bear. It had a magical quality that we all loved.

Director/Musical Director Jeremy Showgren kept his actors moving and the songs were gorgeous. The ensemble numbers especially just seemed absolutely perfect (or practically perfect anyway!)–their harmonies were lovely. A few times during the performance people got off from the musical track and this is to be expected for opening night. A few other glitchy things happened, like a door staying open that wasn’t supposed to, a broom being left onstage, but the performers involved all fixed that and it was fine.

We all loved the show, but I will say, it is long. It starts at 8:00 PM and we didn’t get out of there until after 10:00. Though I didn’t hear any crying children, if your kids are antsy or get grumpy if they stay up too late, I’d leave them home. However, for Mary Poppins lovers or anyone who loves a fun-filled family appropriate live show, give the SCERA’S Mary Poppins a go. You will love it.

mp6JUNE 5-20 @ 8:00pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays

GENERAL ADMISSION: $12 Adult, $10 Child (age 3-11), $10 Senior (age 65+). Reserved seating areas and group rates also available. For tickets, call (801) 225-ARTS or online.

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