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`Utah’ is back - but it’s nearly a new play

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Tim Slover, a student and professor of both the existential allegories of Samuel Beckett and the gut-wrenching familial dramas of Sam Shepard, has written a new script for what has traditionally been a "Mormon Pageant."

The result is a nearly new "Utah," performed in the Tuacahn amphitheater west of St. George.The only aspect of previous productions retained by "Utah," aside from the title, is the Kurt Bestor/Sam Carden score - and even that has been rearranged be-yond recognition.

"What might have been the incidental music behind a scene-change in the old show could have turned into a love duet," said Slover, a professor of theatre at Brigham Young University. "I said, `Here we need a song about this, with these characters singing,' then left it up to the magical genius of Marvin Payne (the show's lyricist)."

The play originally chronicled the life of Jacob Hamblin, who settled that part of the state. Primarily a Mormon story, it showed the hardships and faith of the pioneers, as well as Hamblin's dealings with American Indians.

Slover's new script deals with the colonization of the entire state and doesn't just tell things from the Mormon perspective. "The more you read of Utah state history, the more you realize this isn't just a Mormon state. I tried to show the contributions of non-Mormons as well."

After the first pioneers' arrival in 1847, Brigham Young began more than 400 colonizations of Utah and the Intermountain West. Some of these settlements survived, and some didn't. Slover tells the story through his main character, a map-maker who notes which of these colonies are marked on the map "in ink."

Slover wrote the play "as a reflection of problems facing the Wasatch Front today."

He adds, "I'm a Mormon and a Utahn, and I think one of the greatest challenges facing the Wasatch Front is what to do about growth." He cites the houses filling in once-barren areas along the freeway, as well as bigger homes, bigger lawns and the depletion of the state's water supply.

"Sometimes there's greed involved," he said.

The characters in Slover's play also face issues of growth and greed. One character in particular wants so much to have a ranch of his own that he's willing to hurt those who stand in his way - in this case, the American Indians.

"I tried to valorize and respect Native Americans. The perfect, charitable man in this play happens to be a Native American."

Slover said he uses Mormons to illustrate the theme of families but the obligatory romantic interest is among non-Mormons, and American Indians deal most with themes of growth and change.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between this year's show and those in years past is its sense of realism.

"I have a sense that most outdoor drama does very little other than celebrate the region in which it's set," Slover said. "We tried very hard to bring some of the challenges facing this state into this drama.

"The dancing is still good and people who come will have a good time, but we're hoping they will also have a more thoughtful time."