A "work in progress" by Aden Ross, one of Utah's most prolific writers, will be spotlighted on Monday, March 19, at 8 p.m. as the second production in Salt Lake Acting Company's annual Free Spring Readings series.
Ross enjoys writing. She also enjoys baroque music.The two come together - in roundabout fashion - in "Rings," a psychological drama involving six characters: two wealthy white women, two Hispanic sisters and a judge and her best friend, a theater director.
"I listen to a lot of Bach," said Ross, "and it occurred to me that a play could be structured like a Bach fugue, with different voices coming in at different times and essentially saying the same things in different ways, like echoes from scene to scene."
The dialogue in "Rings" winds and twists and intertwines until it joins together to become one voice.
The play, said Ross, is about the public trial of the two white women, who have been accused of terrorizing and robbing the two Hispanics, a maid and her sister. But it goes beyond mere courtroom maneuvering to probe the psychological trial faced by the judge herself as she comes to grips with the case and finds herself identifying personally more and more with the complex issues at hand.
The audience gets to probe the mind and imagination of the trial's presiding judge.
"Rings" is also a play about confession, and the premise that the act of confessing can also be an exercise in manipulation. Under the aegis of "confessing" sometimes the confessor is actually holding back or obscuring part of the truth, subconsciously looking for a plea bargain.
Ross interviewed several judges during her research for "Rings," and she now spends much of her time working as a professional consultant in law, education, fine arts and medicine. In her work with the legal profession she has "come to appreciate the conflicts that judges face. In this morass of different viewpoints and partial truths, how do you find "a truth" you can live with and ultimately prosecute? A verdict reflects only one small part of one of the truths."
The playwright added that between her research and consultation work, she's gained new insight about the immense caseload faced by the judicial system and the pressure on judges to constantly make the right decisions.
"How does one honest, just person empathize enough to exact justice?" she asked. "A judge must not only act out of love, but out of humanity."
Ross, who earned her doctorate at the University of Utah, started writing "Rings" about a year ago. It took about three months to finish the first draft, but it's still a work in progress.
Which is why she's excited about the play's scheduled presentation in SLAC's Free Spring Readings series.
"This is not a finished product," she said, "and the playwrights stay after the reading to solicit audience feedback."
This feedback about how the audience feels about a production and suggestions on changes help the writer with subsequent revisions.
Ross has taught classes in creative writing, literature, theater, philosophy and interdisciplinary fine arts at the University of Utah, Utah State University and Westminster College.
Her poetry has been published in Poetry Northwest, California Quarterly and Kansas Quarterly. Eight of her plays have been produced in Oregon, Louisiana, Utah and off-off Broadway, including SLAC's productions of "Wanted: Billy the Kid" and "Shroud Lines."
Another of her recent works, "Ladies' Room," a comedy set in a women's restroom in Caesars Palace, will be produced this fall by the Portland Women's Theatre Company.
Earlier this year, Ross conducted a workshop on playwriting as part of the Rocky Mountain Theatre Association's "Festivention" conference in Cedar City.
SLAC's reading of "Rings" will be directed by Jean Roberts.
The cast of readers includes Debora Lynn Threedy, Rafael Colon Castanera, Rosa Cassibba, Rebecca Hunt, Teri Cowan, Don Glover, Marta Merino and Barbara Smith. The playwright will act as narrator for the stage directions.
Salt Lake Acting Company is located at 168 W. 500 North.
The Free Spring Reading series will conclude on Monday, March 26, with former Utahn Julie Jensen's "White Money," directed by Larry West.