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Drama goes boldly where Disney fears to tread

Last Sunday night my wife and I dropped by the Grace Baptist Church in Bountiful to see a production of "Heart Guard," a musical drama by Michael Kelly Blanchard.

The hall was overflowing. The cast was pumped up. And the play itself (if you'll forgive a bit of a reach) was like a strip of tasty fruit leather - rather long but sweet and nourishing.Spanish playwright Garcia Lorca once took the moon out of the sky and made it a character in a play. In "Heart Guard," Blanchard goes him one better. He takes the hearts out of his two protagonists and makes them characters.

I know what you're thinking.

It sounds weird.

It sounds like a Disney animated feature.

But before you phone Michael Eisner, let me say that Michael Kelly Blanchard rushes in where Disney fears to tread.

He's not afraid to take risks.

You won't find abortion, promiscuity and religious pride among the heartaches Disney is willing to portray.

And you won't find repentance and God's redeeming love among Disney's ideas for happy endings.

Compared to "Heart Guard," Disney's animated tales play just a few notes near the center of the keyboard.

Blanchard goes after "high C" and "low C."

His cast of characters and character flaws includes us all.

As my wife and I left the church, we thought of all the people we know - including ourselves - who showed up on the stage that night.

And we talked about all the people we didn't know who showed up to watch those characters in action.

I often champion interfaith events in this column, but that play at Grace Baptist was the best example I've seen in some time.

Yes, the Grace Baptist Church furnished most of the cast members. But members of several local churches filled in where they could.

And the production itself was a color wheel of faith.

I spoke with Hazel Rowe about it. She directed the play and also starred in one of the roles. She was the driving force behind the whole venture.

"This play is very non-denominational," she said. "The story is about how we communicate with each other and how we communicate with God. It is about honest love."

And it attracted audience members from a dozen denominations.

We sat next to a young LDS woman, for instance, who arrived late because she thought the church was on 400 South in Salt Lake City.

We saw LDS actors, LDS music professionals and several local ministers in the crowd.

I applaud them for making the effort to get there.

And I applaud author Michael Kelly Blanchard and his New England-based Quail Ministries for giving people what they came for.

Many years ago Blanchard gave up looking for gold to look for the Golden Rule. And he's found it. Last fall, in fact, I got a chance to ask him about that when he was in town for a one-man concert.

"I'm not a minister," he explained. "And I'm not evangelical. I'm really a communicator, a storyteller. I like to deal with elements of mercy and the forgiveness of God. I write about broken-heartedness, but I also write about the delight we feel in being part of a family."

Blanchard couldn't be here for this production, but as I watched his play, I thought of what he'd said at his concert.

"We're going to play `find Waldo' tonight," he declared that night. "Only the Waldo we'll be looking for is your heart."

Then he sang songs about reconciliation between husbands and wives, fathers and sons, and wayward teens and God until Kleenex sprouted throughout the hall.

Last week, at Grace Baptist Church, another "find Waldo" search party was formed.

Once again, Waldo showed up.

And once again - thanks to Hazel Rowe and her cast - what once was lost now is found.