Playbill On-Line reporter David Lefkowitz spent the week of July 13-20 in Utah, attending various theatrical events. Here is the last of his four dispatches.
If a panel of varied, thoughtful and active Mormon playwrights wasn't enough to convince visiting critics there's more to Utah theatre than pioneer pageantry, the scribes were ultimately won over by surprisingly spunky -- and often PG-13 rated -- parodies and satires on local stages.
Months ago Pioneer Theatre Company was forced to retrench a bit after angry letters came in protesting Conversations With My Father (for taking the Deity's name in vain), but Salt Lake Acting Company and Off Broadway Theatre Company both happily get away with lots of double entendres, social criticism and sexy costuming and themes.
In fact, Salt Lake Acting Company's Saturday's Voyeur is now a city tradition. Begun in 1978, the show, which lampoons local politicians and the various irritants of Utah life, will celebrate its 20th anniversary June 24-Aug. 30, 1998. Current authors Nancy Borgenicht and Allen Nevins have been the executive producers of SLAC since 1994, and their previous Voyeurs have included "The Return Of The Elders" and "Phatman Of The Opera."
They've also penned and directed this year's Voyeur, subtitled "Jordan Riverdance," which not only spoofs such politicians as Governor Michael O. Leavitt, but uses A Chorus Line and Riverdance/Lord Of The Dance to do so. Kind of a cross between Capitol Steps and Forbidden Broadway, the Saturday's Voyeur revues use showtoons for their satiric jabs. For example, this year's revue uses South Pacific's "Wonderful Guy" to explain why Brigham Young football player-turned-pro Steve Young is still a bachelor; "Money Makes [Our] World Go Around" to satirize graft by the Olympic committee (the Games come to SLC in 2002) and a Sweeney Todd-style look at Gov. Leavitt's hair-stylist, "Margee Smith, The Demon Barber From Murray." In-jokes abound about highway construction and Mormon teachings, but the cast's exuberance and the script's cheekiness are a surprise in a town where the most known cultural export is a tabernacle choir. Cynthia Fleming choreographs "Jordan Riverdance," which opened July 16 and runs to Sept. 21 at Salt Lake Acting Company's Upstairs Theatre.
Nevins and Borgenicht told the Salt Lake Tribune (July 18) the show has recently moved toward politics and away from mocking the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints -- not because of self censorship, but because the Mormon hierarchy has become a less ominous target. "They're so much smarter and better. Church president Gordon B. Hinckley is a genius, a P.R. Man," said Nevins. "The situation has changed, and we've had to move on, and happily."
Aside from this popular summer show, SLAC also chooses a varied slot of productions for its mainstage season. The 1997-98 roster will begin (Oct. 1-Nov. 9) with Last Lists Of My Mad Mother, by Utah-born playwright Julie Jensen. The poetic comedy/drama studies a family at a time when "child becomes parent and parent becomes child."
Next up (Nov. 12-Dec. 21) will be Anne-Marie McDonald's romp through literature (with lesbian overtones, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Cherry Jones starred Off-Broadway in the play, which concerns a bookish professor transported into Othello and Romeo And Juliet.
Richard Greenberg's Three Days Of Rain follows (Feb. 4-March 15, 1998). Actors in this drama -- which premiered at CA's South Coast Repertory -- play both grown children and their parents thirty years earlier.
A fourth show (April 1-May 10, 1998) has not yet been chosen, and 20th anniversary Saturday's Voyeur goes up June 24-Aug. 30, 1998.
Meanwhile, the Off-Broadway Theatre is presenting a lighter, less satirical comedy, Dumb Blond: Laugh Till You Spy. A campy spy spoof, Blond pairs a smooth James Bond-type (playwright Bob Bedore) with a bumbling Maxwell Smart-type (Eric Jensen) as they try to overcome an evil Princess (Tanya Carter) who wants to turn the whole world ugly.
More PG than PG-13, Dumb Blond nevertheless takes jabs at pop culture with horrendously bad puns, bawdy sight-gags, and a spirit informed by Off Broadway Theatre's celebrated improv troupe, "Quick Wits," which plays Friday and Saturday evenings after Dumb Blond, as well as on Sunday evenings.
Author/actor Bedore told Playbill On-Line that Off-Broadway Theatre is very popular on weekends, generally selling out and filling the theatre's former-movie-theatre space. Next season's productions will include a romantic musical, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, by Bedore's wife, Laura, as well as the troupe's next spoof: Dracula Vs. The Vampire: We Got Necks.
No need to worry, though, that these satirical theatres will turn Satanic. SLAC's Nevins told the Salt Lake Tribune, "No matter where we are in the country, if somebody says something about Utah, we instantly become Mormons. It's just our sense of regional insecurity."
--By David Lefkowitz