The SCERA’S Nunsense is Heavenly!

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By Rachael Gibson

I have to be honest… I’d never seen the musical Nunsense until Saturday night at the SCERA. I don’t know that I’ve ever really even heard of it.

I had NO idea what to expect so as I sat next to my husband in the theater waiting for the show to start, I searched my program for a synopsis. I couldn’t find one, so I tried my best to recollect what I might remember from some of the social media plugs I had read. So, really, we were both in for a surprise.

First off, I have to say that Michael Carrasco did an immaculate job of choosing who would play each sister. Their personalities, looks and mannerisms were completely on point. I also sensed throughout the show that he let them develop their characters and didn’t seem to be “over” directed, but instead felt, even in its silliness, more real. The performances didn’t feel forced, but more of a natural extension of themselves.

Which leads me to how impressed I was with the women acting in this show. I was so excited to see all the talent abounding in such a small cast as it oozed off the stage. Sometimes, literally, off the stage as they would come and interact with the audience off stage. Their interaction with random audience members proved their natural wit and humor and added to the endearing qualities that vested me into each character.

Allison Books, who plays Sister Mary Regina, Mother Superior does a wonderful job of bringing the audience up to speed about the tragedy of a mass poisoning in the convent that, after burials, has left them with four sisters that they have had to put in the freezer until they have the money raised for their proper burials, hence the reason for the show they are putting on at the local school to raise funds. Not only is Books animatedly intriguing, but her accent was so fun and made listening to her explanations even better, but her slapstick, physical humor brought me back to the days of the Carol Burnett show. I was also impressed with her ability to keep her accent even through her songs, which were amazing too.

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Mariah Hatch, who plays Sister Mary Robert Anne, was my ultimate favorite of the night probably because I loved her tomboy demeanor, Jersey accent and her subtle antics poking fun at the Reverend Mother. Can I say though, that it was her voice that sold me? Wow! I could have listened to her all night. She, luckily for me, had several stand-out solo parts that cut to the core of my Broadway geekiness and made me feel like I was in New York, New York instead of the SCERA in Orem, Utah.

Chelsea Lindsey, who plays Sister Mary Amnesia was my husband’s favorite mostly because of her fantastic scene with her puppet, Sister Mary Annette (created by the talented Nat Reed). My husband didn’t laugh as hard as I did, (not many do) but he still got a good chuckle watching her switch seamlessly between the two distinct voices. Lindsey kept her character in her face and body language the entire time and truly made me feel she was made for this part.

Shaylia Johnson plays the part of Sister Mary Leo and her face fit the part of the sweet, cute, dreamy-eyed Nun-Dancer she hopes to be. Her ballet pieces were fun and light-hearted. Shelly Stewart Truax is Sister Mary Hubert. Shelley’s years of being onstage are pronounced as you watch her grace, poise and humor bring to life a serious and sensible, yet lighthearted and comical character. She is believable as the Reverend Mother’s sidekick and she shows that in the duet “Just a Coupl’a Sisters.” The standout moment for me, though, was her solo, “Holier Than thou” in which she let her voice and her spirit loose.

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You may think that with a play of four nuns dressed in black and white would make for a dull stage presence, but Costumer Kelsey Seaver added small, but fabulous touches to the costumes that brought humor, distinction, and color to the Sisters. I especially got a good laugh at one of the small touches that were added to Mother Superior’s accidental apron. Thanks for that, Kelsey.

Nat Reed, as always, brought M’liss Tolman’s scene design to life which reflected a school auditorium with a second level that added depth and interest. The depth of the stage was enhanced by the lighting design of Marianne Ohran. Christy Norton’s prop designs did not disappoint and were thought of in detail right down to the bar stools that would spin to add to the Sisters’ choreography and antics.

Brandalee B. Streeter did a great job musically directing these five women to sound their best. Jillian Ormond brought so much life to the Sisters with their choreography that it felt like a fresh version of some old musicals, but my favorite was the tap dance that was full of creativity and originality. Stage Manager Danielle Berry added her voice to the show by being the “techy” for Mother Superior, but her real talent showed in how smoothly the show went through each scene and song. It was also a treat to hear sound designer, Kendall Bowman add his voice in as the back-up announcer that night, but it’s always nice to know that he is the one running the sound and making sure we never fall short of being entertained with sound.

The SCERA has long been a community gem that not only brings us great theater and entertainment, but  adds to the aura of kindness and service in Orem that bring us all together. We parked along the street for an easy get-away from the crowds for our return home. The volunteers taking tickets were friendly as always and the theatre was clean and smelt of popcorn. We had great seats right in the middle of the floor, which not only had a good view, but also secluded Marc enough that he didn’t feel pressured to participate when the nuns came out to interact with the audience.

At the SCERA, it is one of my favorite things to see and talk with the cast after the show and the nuns were very welcoming. There was even a picture prop in the foyer if you wanted to look like the nuns to post to social media or keep as a souvenir token of the night.

This show runs at the SCERA every Monday, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 until October 8th.

Location: SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058

Phone: (801) 225-ARTS

Tickets are $10-$12

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Yellow Umbrellas at Bydand Theater Company Dives Beautifully into the Human Psyche

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By Teresa Gashler

A linear representation of life experiences is frequently inaccurate in portraying the processing tendencies of the human brain. Yellow Umbrellas by Morag Shepherd uses abstract techniques to explore and find meaning in the combination of past experiences. The beautiful paradox is that the abstract can be more real than linear “reality” would be, as the brain works abstractly to comb through experiences out of order. The result is relatable, meaningful, and devastatingly beautiful.

The story centers around Cassandra (Rachelle Elbert) as she maneuvers through the problems in her relationships, particularly with her sister Marie (Alexis Boss), her dad Max (Jeff Kocherhans), and Marie’s fiancée Jon (Tyler Harris). The scenes explore her memories from being 12 to adult in a nonlinear fashion. Cassandra, Marie, and Max frequently mention their mother, who is no longer with the family, as if the problems started with her. Max gives Cassandra and Marie yellow umbrellas that metaphorically prove to be insufficient in sheltering them from the storms they face. Cassandra urges Max to tell her where he secretly visits on a regular basis, though he will never disclose that to her. We discover that Cassandra has developed a romantic relationship with Jon that not only implodes on itself but puts her relationship with Marie at risk. We see many instances where Cassandra and Marie go to play chicken on train tracks, a game that requires them to tell each other when to get off the tracks safely as a train approaches. This train game serves as a metaphor for the family as they make hurtful choices but still long to trust each other. Through many trials of losing trust in each other and feeling hopeless, the play ends with forgiveness and a resolve to start over as much as possible.

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The performance venue was a comfortable space for being small. The smallness is arguably a positive factor as you could feel the presence of the actors and music. The minimalistic approach from the director (Christy Foster) and stage manager (Jake Fullmer) was well executed as each stage direction and prop had defined, meaningful purposes. The accompaniment of a single guitar from the musician (Gary Argyle) played an important thematic role, filling in gaps that would otherwise be filled in with scenery and sound effects. I would love to see more theatrical productions use a musician in the same way to cut down on the spectacle and bring more focus to the story.

The ensemble worked brilliantly together. Elbert dove deeply into Cassandra’s character, allowing the audience to feel her joy and experience the sting of her selfish choices. Boss, Harris, and Kocherhans also succeeded in portraying their characters as flaw-filled human beings that we can’t help but love and root for.

Yellow Umbrellas is a great play for those new to abstract theater and abstract connoisseurs alike. While many brilliant abstract works leave the audience with little direction other than despair for the human condition, I appreciate that Shepherd ends the piece with hope, something we desperately need in our world today.

Yellow Umbrellas has now closed, but was performed at The A-Frame – 883 N 1200 E, Provo, UT 84604

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Wasatch Theater Company’s A Bright New Boise Shines Brilliantly

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By Joel Applegate

I love the Rose Wagner’s black box theater. It was evident from the spare set and two walls that for this production of A Bright New Boise, the play’s the thing. Nothing fancy. What is a play? People in motion telling a story. True to their mission of choosing works that “engage, stimulate and entertain,” Wasatch Theatre Company chose well in telling this poignant, very funny, and harrowing tale of faith gone awry. This play won New York’s OBIE award for playwriting in 2011.

Director Jim Martin and his sound designer, Amy Allred, set the tone with a great playlist of tunes from start to finish, with “My Own Private Idaho” logically winding toward Joan Osborne’s “What If God Was One of Us.” At first, it seems we’re about to watch a sardonically quaint slice of life with some quirky characters in out-of-the-way Boise, Idaho. But the play takes us deeper and deeper into the life of our lead, Will, whose flight from a church scandal undoes more than just himself. Brian C. Pilling takes Will from nondescript to dangerous in a performance that increases in power and carries playwright Sam Hunter’s profound theme of faith bumping up against modern life.

Will, arriving in Boise, gets hired by Pauline in one of Hobby Lobby’s barely urban outposts (at a sinful wage of $7.25 an hour!) Sallie Cooper nails Pauline from her first speech. The interview she conducts only hints at the rough edge and determined pride Cooper so beautifully lashes at later on. Holding on to all she’s built as a store manager, Pauline literally curses her own morality into being. It’s her way of exorcising dysfunction. Pairing conflict resolution with a side of profanity is a hoot.

Will, scrubbed on the outside and the inside, finds us unprepared for the bomb he drops on Alex, a teenage cashier at the store. Is the abuse Alex talks about real or imagined?  CJ Strong as Alex has a great connection with himself, never going over the top, though the role would tempt many an actor to blow it up. He is an interesting performer. Even when he does almost nothing, we see him wrestling to repair his broken soul.

Will encounters others at the store, too: a quietly composed Haley McCormick as Anna. Like Strong, she connects to her inner self with understated skill.  Neither Will nor Anna has anywhere to go. They escape into blogs and books.

Will’s caustic co-worker, Leroy, has no need to hide from anything or anyone. At first, the play fools us into thinking Leroy is a caricature. But Gordon Dunn demands us to “take me as I am,” doing a terrific job hiding Leroy’s deliberately dark commitment to protecting the fragile Alex.

Any play about religion is fraught – especially in Utah. There’s a wonderful natural ease in the performances of most of this highly skilled cast – except Pilling as Will – uptight and tightly wound pleading for Jesus to show up “now – now!” Is it a paradox to try to rebuild a faith once broken by its very practice? After we get to know the characters, the playwright takes us on a deep dive into the meaning of being, a great feat to pull off with such earthily drawn souls. Hunter juxtaposes the irrational events of both faith and the world, exploring not only what we believe, but why we believe it.

And so, A Bright New Boise is more about identity than religion. It’s easy enough to adopt a mythology to explain life or provide purpose. Anna tells a briefly doubting Will, “You can just believe in something else.” But Will has nothing to believe in but a holy fire that will negate the earth he is standing on. It’s a devil of a choice. To him, identity is evangelism. He cannot embrace another way of thinking without the terror of losing his soul. He must believe in greater things than this mere world.  We leave him praying for all of it to be burned to ash.

Here’s a link to learn more about this interesting playwright, Samuel D. Hunter: http://2ndstorytheatre.com/prodigals-samuel-d-hunters-a-bright-new-boise-2011/

Wasatch Theatre Company presents A Bright New Boise

September 1st thru 17th, 2016: Thur, Fri, Sat at 8 pm, with Matinees on Sept 10 & 17 at 2 pm.    General Admission: $20.00

Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 West 300 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84101. Phone (801) 446-5657

www.wasatchtheatre.org      Ticketing Information: www.artix.org

Email: wasatchtheatre@hotmail.com

Contains adult language.

 

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