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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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PTC’s “Two Dollar Bill” Asks Big Questions About Truth and History

Alexander I. Weisman

Every once in a while a play comes along that asks us to think instead of simply laugh or tap our toes to a catchy tune. The Pioneer Theatre Company’s world premiere of “Two Dollar Bill” on Friday night asked audiences to do just that.

“Two Dollar Bill” tells the story of Bill Dudley, played by Mark Zimmerman, a tenured history professor who is forced to face his past mistakes when his credentials are challenged after his book is nominated for an award. The performance unflinchingly challenges the audience to consider whether one error should unravel a lifetime of good and whether the positive result justifies the ambiguous means of getting there.

The play cleverly uses history as a metaphorical backdrop for Dudley’s present challenges. Later in the play, Dudley tells teaching assistant Ron Ellis (Corey Allen) that history is meant to help those in the present learn and grow from past mistakes. Ironically, Dudley is essentially giving this advice to himself as he struggles to deal with his own past, which is catching up to his present. Dudley has no issue with telling everyone who will listen that his little white lie pales in comparison to the great things he has accomplished. And while it is easy to sympathize with his plight, it is impossible to ignore the collateral damage everyone around him faces as a result of his falsehood.

It must have been tempting to turn this play into a tantalizing drama about the marital interplay between Dudley and Jessica McGovern (Lesley Fera), his wife, who also happens to be his boss. But playwright T.J. Brady centralizes the plot on the debate at hand. Do the ends really justify the means? Should Dudley get a second chance even if the good he has done comes from a lie?

Brady, whose work can be seen on the television series “Lie to Me” and “Army Wives,” demonstrates his skill by crafting a script which quickly engages the audience in the drama from the first scene. His characters are sympathetic one moment and completely distasteful another, keeping the audiences from attaching to any one character, which would detract from the argument at hand.

Perhaps the best way to sum up “Two Dollar Bill” is through the infamous cliche, “You can’t handle the truth.” Dudley can’t handle that his lie actually does justify his termination, just as McGovern can’t handle that Dudley’s good deeds should outweigh the small untruth. But, at the end of the day, it’s the audience who gets to decide how important the truth really is to them.

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