Editor’s Note: All photos courtesy of Rick Pollock
The five Utah playwrights who participated in Plan-B Theatre’s ninth annual slam last weekend demonstrated quite nicely they deserved the unexpected creative liberties they were handed by the company’s principal directors, 24 hours earlier. (PHOTO: ‘Gaming The DMV’)
Breaking with precedent, Jerry Rapier and Cheryl Ann Cluff decided Friday that there would be no prompts for the quintet of writers – Matthew Ivan Bennett, Elaine Jarvik, Julie Jensen, Jenifer Nii and Eric Samuelsen – who normally would have expected to see all sorts of limitations including title and subject matter.
Just 24 hours before the five short plays were premiered before a sold out Jeanne Wagner theatre in downtown Salt Lake City, the playwrights learned their only limitations were no nudity, the actors would be dressed in black, props of nothing more than four benches, and the usual length of 10 minutes.
The results were good – even better in contemplation after the fact – because the audience was treated to an hour-long glimpse at some of the passions which inspire and drive arguably the most gifted group of writers in Utah that one could bring together for a night of spontaneously created theater. The SLAM sampler offered comedy, drama, and historical introspection with touches of absurdism, historical drama, the afterlife, contemporary social messaging, and slice-of-life humor. (PHOTO: ‘Public Humiliation’)
And, the 15 actors – with three in each of the plays – rose impressively to the risky stakes encumbered within these works, just with less than 11 hours of rehearsal in this frenzied 24-hour cycle. The bonus presence of a supremely gifted Aaron Swenson who portrays the lead in Plan-B’s forthcoming reprisal of the ‘Hedwig and The Angry Inch’ rounded out unquestionably one of the two best slams in the company’s history.
Rapier and Cluff have toyed around with the slam format in recent years. Several years ago, the event was built around plays riffing off some of Utah’s most widely publicized incidents of censorship and the suppression of free expression. Last year, Plan-B gave playwrights the same title – ‘Control_Alt_Delete’ – that reminded audience members of the great original writing talents in their own backyards. However, the choice of creative liberation in this year’s program was especially smart because it resonates with the successful brand of no-apologies socially conscious theater for which Plan-B has become best known. (PHOTO: Aaron Swenson as ‘Hedwig,’ hostess for SLAM!)
Each playwright brought a different dish to the table. Jensen’s ‘Public Humiliation’ (directed by Kyle Lewis and featuring Colleen Lewis, Deena Marie Manzanares, and Tracie Merrill) was as much as an effective absurdist riff on Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ as it was an appropriate metaphor for the playwriting slam enterprise. Jensen, in particular, seemed to relish the freedom from previous slam rules and restrictions and Lewis’ direction solidly extruded Jensen’s intentions from the fresh script.
Bennett’s ‘Adaptation’ (directed by John Graham and featuring Kirt Bateman, Carleton Bluford, and Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin) was a big, dramatic take on the meeting between Harriet Tubman and John Brown, who actually met at least twice – once in Canada, and once in Boston – before the doomed Harper’s Ferry raid. There were some historical liberties (including some inaccurate ones) but nevertheless Bennett, whose intellectual passion for history is never to be doubted, effectively reminds us of the uncompromising intensity involved in the cause.
However, Tubman increasingly distanced herself from the Quaker pacifist roots by which she started her work but she also actively recruited individuals for Brown’s forthcoming raid. She originally intended to join Brown at the raid but the historical evidence is unclear whether it was illness (she is believed to have suffered from epilepsy) or the realization that Brown’s raid was doomed. Nevertheless, recent historical research suggests that she supported violent reprisals not only in word but also in strategic planning. (PHOTO: ‘Adaptation’)
Jarvik, in her first spin at the event, made it seem particularly effortless. Her ‘NEXT!’ (directed by Alexandra Harbol and featuring Mark and April Fossen and Stephanie Howell) was a smartly paced piece with a career-minded Eve deciding whether or not a recently deceased couple deserved admission to heavenly paradise. Jarvik has a good knack for using death as a prompt in her short pieces and the comedic results were as naturally satisfying as expected. The only quibble, and the playwright admitted as much following the event, was that she would have reconsidered the ending (which would not have ended as happily for the couple as in the original).
Nii’s ‘Whiplash’ (directed by Kay Shean and featuring Lauren Noll, Topher Rasmussen, and Latoya Rhodes) nicely encapsulated the roller coaster of emotions which supporters of marriage equality experienced just within the most recent week. It was an effective theatrical piece of social messaging that echoed President Obama’s public support for marriage equality, the passage of the North Carolina movement banning same-sex marriage, and a viral online video about a young man’s experience in dealing with one-year anniversary of his partner’s accidental death.
Finally, in ‘Gaming The DMV’ (directed by Christy Summerhays, and featuring Jasson Tatom, Kalyn West, and Claire Wilson) Eric Samuelsen showed his always deft hand at turning the most seemingly ordinary scenes – this time, the waiting lobby for the department of motor vehicles – into explorations of the dysfunctional messes of decision-making and reasoning we make in our social spaces. (PHOTO: ‘NEXT!’)
ANNOUNCING THE 2012-2013 SEASON
All the right notes were sounded, too, as Jerry Rapier, Plan-B’s producing director, announced the five main productions for the expanded 2012-2013 season, which features world premieres by three of the playwrights who dispensed themselves well during the slam.
Returning after a two-year hiatus will be the seventh edition of Plan-B’s Radio Hour production, a world premiere play by Bennett ‘Sherlock Holmes and The Blue Carbuncle.’ The Dec. 18 performance will coincide with a live radio broadcast on KUER-FM’s show ‘RadioWest,’ hosted by Doug Fabrizio.
Matthew Greene’s new play ‘Adam & Steve and The Empty Sea,’ which is a story about a pair of childhood friends grappling with issues of religion, sexuality, and maturity, will run Jan. 31 to Feb. 10. Bennett’s second new play, ‘Eric(a),’ an experimental solo-character production about a transgender man who falls in love with a woman as a man for the first time,’ will run Feb. 28 to March 10. (PHOTO: ‘Whiplash’)
Nii, whose adaptation of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ played to strong praise during the current season, will have her new work ‘Suffrage’ premiered in a 10-day run beginning Apil 4. Nii’s story, featuring two sister wives, brings to life little-known history about Utah’s surprising lead in the woman’s suffrage movement during the 19th century.
Closing the season will be the 10th annual slam production on May 4.
Tickets are now available for the five-show season, including a complete subscription package at $93, which represents a 15 percent saving over ticket prices for each of the five shows. Also, tickets are available for the ‘Hedwig and The Angry Inch’ run which begins June 8.
For all ticket information, see here.
NOTE: For details about ‘Hedwig,’ see here.
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