Salt Lake City's Plan-B to Devote Entire Season to Utah Writer Bennett

News   Salt Lake City's Plan-B to Devote Entire Season to Utah Writer Bennett Plan-B Theatre, the Equity-affiliated troupe in Salt Lake City, announced that its entire 2008-09 season will be comprised of works by one writer — its 30-year-old resident playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett.
Matthew Ivan Bennett
Matthew Ivan Bennett

This is a departure for the company known for socially relevant contemporary plays by a variety of authors. This marks the first time a Utah theatre's entire mainstage season has been devoted to one playwright — and a Utah writer, to boot. (Plan-B has long had a commitment to Utah writers, however.)

All three Bennett plays are Plan-B commissions. The season will include the following works by Bennett, a graduate of Southern Utah University:

  • Oct. 24-Nov. 1: an adaptation of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" as the fourth annual Radio Hour production. On Halloween, it will be broadcast live on the local NPR affiliate, KUER, and simulcast on XM Satellite Radio.
  • Feb. 20-March 8, 2009: Block 8, a world premiere "view of the Japanese internment experience at Topaz — just outside of Delta, UT — during World War II."

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  • April 3-19, 2009: Di Esperienza, a world premiere "examination of the place of failure within the successes of Leonardo da Vinci." The play will be workshopped as part of the Utah Shakespearean Festival's New American Playwrights Project in August. The festival is housed on the campus of Southern Utah University, Bennett's alma mater. Block 8 and Di Esperienza will be Bennett's first professional, full-length productions. Rapier will direct both. Radio Hour will be directed by Cheryl Cluff, the founder of Plan-B.

    Also on the 2008-09 slate are Plan-B's annual events Slam — collection of ten-minute plays, May 30, 2009 — and And the Banned Played On (July 20, 2009), a collection of censored works.

    All performances play the Rose Wagner Theatre, 138 West 300 South, in Salt Lake City, UT. Subscriptions are on sale July 22.

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    How did Bennett and Plan-B hook up?

    "In preparation for our second Slam in 2005, I received a submission from Matt," artistic director Jerry Rapier told Playbill.com. "At that time, he was just about to turn 27 and had just moved back to Utah after graduating from Southern Utah University and spending a few years in Chicago. I was immediately blown away by his dialogue, his structure, his point of view so I hired him to write for [the ten-minute play event] Slam. I had no idea he was so young. His Slam piece was rich and compelling. So then I approached him about developing it into a full-length play, which we did as part of our Script-in-Hand Series — a play called Cold.

    "The next year at Slam he again created a rich piece and I again approached him about developing it into a full-length play. Which we did, again as part of our Script-in-Hand Series — a play called Mesa Verde. In retrospect, it's as though we created that series to workshop Matt's work. At that point, I asked Matt to become our resident playwright and commissioned him to write a piece about Leonardo da Vinci, which became Di Esperienza."

    Block 8, about a World War II-era Japanese internment camp in Utah, is a subject that has long been on Rapier's wish list.

    Rapier said, "As a first-generation Japanese American (Nisei), I have wanted to do a piece about Topaz — the Japanese internment camp located in Utah during World War II — for years but wasn't sure how to make it happen. In casual conversation, I bounced the idea off Matt and he told me that his family had camped near Topaz many times while he was growing up. He told me of the power of place he felt there and I had found the writer for what would become Block 8."

    Block 8 was originally intended for the 2009-10 season, "but it has become clear that it can't wait — we need to do it as soon as possible...the play is ready and there seems to be a significant awareness of the internment experience across the country [at the moment]," Rapier said. "We had already planned on Di Esperienza and Radio Hour: Frankenstein from Matt. So with Block 8 moving up a season we have a Matthew Ivan Bennett season next year."

    Bennett's radio plays, Lavender and Exile, were commissioned for Plan-B's annual Radio Hour and performed for a national audience on KUER and XM Satellite Radio; and his one-acts have appeared on stage at Circle Theatre in Chicago and in Chicago Shakespeare's Shorts. He graduated magna cum laude from Southern Utah University with a degree in theatre arts. His first play, The White Light of Terrence received awards at the American College Theatre Festival.

    For more information, visit www.planbtheatre.org.