The Brigham Young University theater department's latest offering, "City of Peace," is staged in the Nelke Experimental Theater, and rightly so. "Experimental" is an apt description of this play with music, a product of the combined efforts and creativity of Russell G. Card, J. Scott Bronson and Arlen L. Card. Charles W. Whitman has directed.
And while I wholeheartedly endorse the concept of experimental theater and believe the university is an appropriate enough place to let playwrights, actors and directors stage their work, I cannot totally endorse this particular production.Oh, there are some nice songs, namely the mellow lullabye and the final, majestic chorus, "When the Morning Appeareth." Both are a credit to the composing talents of Arlen Card. But the opener, a hard rock-styled "City of Peace," and a couple of other similarly styled songs seem almost at odds with the lyrics.
There are some good, strong voices, too: those of Scott Pickard, Kristi E. Monson, Jason Hughes and Kelly K. Shepardson. On most of the songs, they come across in the style of LDS pop-rock artists. The voices are not uniformly good on all pieces, however.
The play itself is at once vague and didactic. It takes place "on one of God's creations, near the end of time." The characters are searching for something, but they're not sure what it is.
Unfortunately, it's not clear to the audience, either.
While some parts are understated or unexplained, others seem melodramatic. "City of Peace" has the appearance of an allegory, but the symbols are too obscure for the observer to connect with any concrete idea or gospel principle. My response was frustration at trying to figure out what the writers were trying to say.
In addition, the pacing is slow, and the costumes and stark scenery are drab, adding to the general tone of dreariness. The final scene, with everyone dressed in long, white gowns and robes, is surely meant to be a contrast and bring forth all kinds of warm feelings in audience members. But it looks like it was lifted straight out of the LDS movie, "Man's Search for Happiness." The effect is campy rather than dramatic or dignified.
In short, this play just tries too hard - so hard that what are intended to be serious, dramatic moments elicit chuckles from the audience. In fairness, I should say that some in the audience seemed to enjoy the production. I just don't think it's for all tastes.