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Challenging works, skillful performances make for an exceptional theater season

 

03-14-2019

 

The performances the Snow College Theater Department pulls out of freshman and sophomore college students are always amazing, but the current theater season has been exceptional.

The faculty has selected challenging literary works full of metaphors, featuring complex characters, and posing moral, social and political dilemmas.

The opening play, the Shakespeare comedy, “Measure for Measure,” is an example. In the play, the acting duke of the country sentences a character named Claudio to death for having premarital sex with his fiancé.

Claudio’s sister, Isabella, who is preparing to enter a convent, goes to the acting duke and pleads for her brother’s life. In an ironic twist, the acting duke propositions her. He tells her if she will have sex with him, he’ll release her brother. She says “no.”

The director, Andrew Nagosky, who is chair of the Theater Department, explains that he chose the play because of the character of Isabella, who he describes in the play program as “a woman exceptional in her faith, fortitude and conviction.” He describes Isabella as “Shakespeare’s me-too heroine.”

The second play was “Glass Menagerie,” by Tennessee Williams, which had a cast of four and was presented in the intimate Haslem Black Box Theater.

Set in St. Louis in 1937, it is the story of a troubled family with a neurotic mother and disabled sister. The person telling the story is the son and brother, who wants to be a poet but works in a factory to support the family. The audience witnesses many painful confrontation among the family members.

Finally, with viewers silently cheering, the son and brother becomes his own person, leaves St. Louis and leaves the family permanently. Yet he expresses guilt for leaving his disabled sister behind.

“The close proximity of actor and audience means every single slung word and caught breath has a resonance and helps to forge connections with the audience,” Milinda Weeks, the director and a Snow assistant professor, writes in the program.

At Christmas time, the Theater Department presented “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. The department had presented the play the year before as well. But this season, director Brad Olsen, professor of theater and also dean of fine arts at Snow, readapted the script.

As Olsen notes in the program, “A Christmas Carol” is a timeless story. Above all, it is a character study in which “a miserly, unhappy, cold and tight-fisted old man” is transformed as he experiences “the magic of living life for the endearing values of family, friends, love and charity.”

Over the past few weeks, the Theater Department has wowed the community with possibly the most ambitious spectacle it has ever staged, “Phantom of the Opera,” complete with a live orchestra from the Horne School of Music. To kick off the production, there was a masquerade ball, followed by a six-night run, with a matinee added the final Saturday to accommodate the sell-out crowds.

The musical features an emotional plot in which the Phantom, a deformed man who has been ostracized by society, threatens violence unless the opera star Christine marries him. Ultimately, she shares passion with the Phantom, after which he releases her to her true love, Raoul.

In the play program, director Milinda Weeks accurately predicts that the Snow College versions of Phantom, Christine and Raoul “will delight you, infuriate you and astound you in ways that only this cast and this production could.” And, she writes, “That, my fellow theater goers is the goal.”

But wait, there’s one play to go. On April 17-20, Nagasky will direct “Our Town,” written by Thorton Wilder in 1938. Like the “Glass Menagerie,” it will be performed in the Black Box Theater.

The play is designed to portray everyday life in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. But we’re told the Snow College version will be about Ephraim, Utah.

The main character in “Our Town” is the stage manager, who addresses the audience, brings in guests lecturers, fields questions from the audience, and fills in playing some of the roles. We’re told some of the performers will be recognizable personalities who live in Ephraim.

Nagosky says Theater Department goal is to give theater students, over the two years they attend Snow, a range of experiences. This season has provided such experiences for more than 100 students who have appeared on stage and dozens of others who have been involved with scenery, costuming, sound, lighting, choreography and other aspects of production.

The choice of scripts and the professionalism with which they’ve been performed have enriched the lives of the community, thankfully without offending us.

Theater, Nagosky said, is a tool “for explaining humanity to itself.” The Snow theater season has done that.