Sounding an "Alternate Voice" in Salt Lake City

Sounding an "Alternate Voice" in Salt Lake City REGIONAL NEWS -- July 1996

REGIONAL NEWS -- July 1996

The Salt Lake Acting Company's complex of three theatres lies down a leafy, quiet street in one of the most conservative of the nation's state capitals. But that hasn't stemmed the adventurousness with which executive producers Nancy Borgenicht and Allen Nevins have programmed seasons of a theatre that was founded in 1970 as an "alternative voice."

SLAC recently won critical raves and sold-out audiences for two stunning productions: the regional premiere of Tony Kushner's two-part epic, Angels in America, and the world premiere of Napoleon's China, a play by Ann Haskell and Sherry Kramer with music by Rebecca Newton.

"We've thought from time to time we'd be closed down," says Borgenicht, adding that as other Salt Lake City theatre companies have fallen by the wayside, SLAC has become a repository for their voices as well. "But the community has been very supportive."

In fact, as Borgenicht spoke, the two were busy readying Saturday's Voyeur, the annual satirical revue that will bow on July 24. The show, always a big money-maker, satirizes topical local news a la Forbidden Broadway, and this year, most of the fodder comes out of the national political scandal of Enid Greene. The Salt Lake congresswoman was Newt Gingrich's pet until it was discovered that her husband, Joe Waldholtz, was misusing millions of dollars of campaign funds. "Joe is her 'Fat Man of the Opera,'" says Borgenicht, signaling their intent to mock with a little help from Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera.

Curiously enough, Kushner's award-winning gay fantasia drew "zero backlash," says Borgenicht, even though it uses Mormon historical themes and sexual and political conservatism to draw some of its most compelling scenes be-tween a repressed Mormon lawyer and the gay New York liberal he's in love with. "There were very few walkouts, and even the Mormon-owned newspaper liked it enormously," she says of the actor-driven production.

The critics also responded enthusiastically to Napoleon's China, an enchanting romance about two misfits. This midsummer night's comedy, in which a befuddled historian and a neurotic artist eventually end up together thanks to a puckish pop singer, was part of the theatre's commitment to help develop new works, some of which have gone on to greater success in regional and N.Y. theatre. Napoleon's China, directed by Robin Wilks-Dunn, featured Dan Larrinaga, Jeanette Puhich and Shaz Bennett. "When Allen and I read it, we thought that the writing was so fresh, intelligent and funny that we just had to do it," says Borgenicht. "It was so beautifully old-fashioned and yet so nineties at the same time. It was an exhilarating challenge to see if we could make it work."

By all reports, they succeeded. A number of producers have expressed interest in Napoleon's China, and more regional productions are likely before it reaches New York. Such vindication of their taste is not the point, however, says Borgenicht whose theatre has helped to nurture the work of such writers as John Pielmayer, Jonathan Marc Sherman and Emily Mann. Their commitment is to their audience as much as to promising new playwrights. "They appreciated Napoleon's China because it was smart and quirky," she says. "It delighted them because it gave them an emotional experience they could only find in the theatre. That's our mission."

-- By Patrick Pacheco