Raasch’s Favorite Salt Lake Theater of 2019

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Raasch’s Favorite Salt Lake Theater of 2019

(Cartoon by Izzy Schlegel | Daily Utah Chronicle)

(Cartoon by Izzy Schlegel | Daily Utah Chronicle)

(Cartoon by Izzy Schlegel | Daily Utah Chronicle)

(Cartoon by Izzy Schlegel | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Abigail Raasch, Arts Writer

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For many of us, the theater holds a place held dear in our hearts. We can find connections in the characters and stories on stage, whether they come to us through a song or a monologue. Salt Lake City is a rare gem when it comes to the amount of theater we have. Here are my top ten theater performances in the Salt Lake area for the year 2019.

Juliet Doherty and Myles Woolstenhulme in “An American in Paris.” (Photo by Douglas Carter, Courtesy Hale Center Theatre)

10. “An American in Paris”

This musical and dance spectacle about an American visiting Paris after World War II had audiences in love with dance and the music of George and Ira Gershwin. “An American in Paris” played at Hale Centre Theater from February through April. Known for producing jaw-dropping musicals through the use of theater-in-the-round and a mechanized stage, Hale Centre amazed audiences through beautiful choreography and riveting classic music. Directed by Dave Tinney, this show proved just how powerful and captivating dance and movement can be. Audiences from all over Salt Lake attended this masterpiece and sung the praises of the leads and professional dancers, Juliet Doherty, Myles Woolstenhulme and Wesley Valdez. While the acting and singing were a bit lacking, the dancing made up for it all.

9. “Silent Dancer”

“Silent Dancer” from Salt Lake Acting Company was in production from April to May this year. This production is in ninth place on this list because of its successful collaborative and creative processes. “Silent Dancer” was written by Kathleen Cahill, directed by Artistic Director of SLAC Cynthia Fleming and choreographed by Ballet West member Christopher Ruud. The production used movement as a medium to tell the story of a young girl and her friends in the 1920s trying to make it as artists in their respective fields. For audiences, the story was provocative and gripping. As may be expected with such a large project, there were slight difficulties with the acting and with bringing everything together as a cohesive production. Overall, however, this play was a triumph in terms of collaboration and creation.

8. “Macbeth”

The University of Utah’s Department of Theatre truly received my respect for their production of “Macbeth.” The traditional Shakespearean story was placed within an apocalyptic setting where the Macbeths, as per usual, find themselves within the classic story of murder, revenge and loss. Playing from September to October, in Studio 110 in the Performing Arts Building, this intimate space provided for the perfect view of an emotional and riveting production. These students stood out as actors, movers and storytellers.

Yolanda Stange in “Oda Might” (Photo by Sharah Meservy, Courtesy Plan-B Theatre Company)

7. “ODA Might”

“ODA Might,” written by playwright Camille Washington, made its Plan-B Theatre Company debut in November of this year. Plan-B cryptically described the premise as “a doctor, a patient, and an orderly walk into a mental hospital” in “a psychological thriller blurring the line between truth and reality.” This new work was different from a lot of what has been produced in the Salt Lake area recently. The idea of the psychological thriller on stage, mixed with the phenomenal cast, grant this play slot number seven in this year’s ranking. Plan-B aims to push theater ever forward and present important ideas, and “ODA Might” is a great example of their success. 

6. “The Lifespan of a Fact”

Pioneer Theatre Company is known for recreating great works to give Salt Lake access to exciting stories. “The Lifespan of a Fact” had a successful broadway run in 2018, and Pioneer Theatre took and did not disappoint in its recreation. Based on a true story, three actors explore the story of a writer, a publisher and a fact-checker. They discuss the issues of honesty versus emotional truth, fiction versus nonfiction and opinion versus fact. These three actors did an outstanding job holding the space and telling the story. The direction by Wes Grantom stood out in PTC’s giant proscenium stage — the space instantly felt more like an intimate black box, bringing the audience closer to the story than ever before. 

5. “Thank You Theobromine”

Immersive theater has been growing in popularity recently, especially in Salt Lake. “Thank You Theobromine” was created by SONDERimmersive in collaboration with The Chocolate Conspiracy chocolate company. The audience walks through an immersive story, with a new scene around every corner. Audience members are asked to travel light, due to the amount of moving required, and to be ready for chocolate everywhere. This show opened this month and runs through January 2020. This 90-minute gourmet chocolate production sounds too good to be true.

Cassandra Stokes-Wylie & Patrick J. Ssenjovu in “Death of a Driver” at Salt Lake Acting Company. (Courtesy McKenna Franssen Photography)

4. “Death of a Driver”

After its workshop at Salt Lake Acting Company, “Death of a Driver” hit it big-time and became an acclaimed hit. This play came home in the fall of 2019, bringing the finished product back to Utah audiences. The two characters in this production, played by Cassandra Stokes-Wylie and Patrick J. Ssenjovu, face the realities of life in Kenya and the “complexities of ‘doing good,’” according to SLAC’s website. Performed in a black box, this intimate and simple story left audiences thinking about the realities of what it means to love, live and create change. “Death of a Driver” was directed by Alexandra Harbold, a U faculty member, and is arguably one of the best shows I have witnessed from SLAC to date.

3. “Once”

Pioneer Theatre receives another recognition on this list for their wonderful production of the Tony Award-winning show “Once” directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh. The multi-talented cast kept up with the lively story of the value of love, music and relationships. Girl (Hillary Porter) and Guy (Roderick Lawrence), the main characters, live their lives by the tune of music. This musical production receives this spot on my list for its amazing set, smartly based around musical instruments. Music was played live on stage by the actors and actresses, who also acted, danced and sang beautifully. These individuals are true quadruple threats.

2. “A Brief Waltz in a Little Room”

This play is yet another piece of complex and immersive theater that makes my list. “A Brief Waltz in a Little Room” was created by theatre company Sackerson and written by Morag Shepherd, Matthew Ivan Bennett and Shawn Francis Saunders. “A Brief Waltz in a Little Room” follows the life of Walter Eyer through the use of 23 short plays. Only 10 audience members could attend the show at a time, due to the confines of the space. This performance was held in a long hallway with several doors. Behind each door was the next part of Eyer’s life. Robert Scott Smith, a U theater professor, played the role of Eyer. Smith’s amazing and captivating work as Eyer could carry this placing on its own, not to mention the ingenious creation of this experience.

1. “Saturday’s Voyeur”

Salt Lake Acting Company’s annual “Saturday’s Voyeur” receives the top spot for the year 2019. The playwrights, Allen Nevins and Nancy Borgenicht, wrote this brilliant piece of work specifically for SLAC. “Saturday’s Voyeur,” directed by Fleming, focuses on exaggerated versions of the realities of living in Salt Lake City. Audience members brought picnic baskets and alcohol to add to the tongue-in-cheek, irreverent aesthetic. Everyone on stage had an endless sense of humor in their pockets, and this production had audience members rolling with laughter throughout the show. “Saturday’s Voyeur” successfully used ample hyperbole, sarcasm and satire. Way to go SLAC for really learning how to lovingly laugh at the community we live in.

 

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@AbigailRaasch