"Man From Nebraska," a Pulitzer Prize finalist and named by Time Magazine as one of the top 10 plays of 2004, is being produced by Salt Lake Acting Company.
This is the first new production since the play's world premiere in 2003 at the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.
Tracy Letts' drama, directed by Richard Scott, opens a 4 1/2-week run on Tuesday.
The play "is unusual in structure, no doubt about that," said Scott, artistic director of Salt Lake Community College's Grand Theatre.
Starting in Lincoln, Neb., deep in America's heartland, the drama eventually spreads into 29 scenes in 19 locations. "This is different," Scott said, "not the more traditional narrative structure. It has a continuous story told in multiple scenes, and it will demand the imagination of the audience a lot, which is a wonderful part of the piece. Another unique facet is the utilization of silence to establish the daily routine of everyday life.
"I read the script when it first came out and, because it is so different, I thought it was intriguing and breathtaking. It's an approach to drama that is challenging. I grabbed it when the opportunity to direct it came along."
Scott's cast includes Joe Cronin as Ken Carpenter, a 57-year-old insurance agent — a sort of Baptist everyman who is living a comfortable life with a lovely family. But suddenly he is confronted with a crisis of faith, telling his wife, Nancy (Anita Booher), that he is no longer sure of God's existence. "This is more than a midlife crisis," said Scott. "It goes much deeper than that; it's a spiritual decline.
"He is a very devout Christian who wakes up with these severe doubts. More than doubts, his entire definition of how he lives his life has inexplicably fallen apart."
Other cast members are Joan Erbin as Carpenter's aging mother; JJ Neward as Ashley, one of his two daughters; and Jason Tatom as their pastor, Rev. Todd, who simply recommends that he "take a vacation." (Carpenter's second daughter, Natalie, is away at school and never seen.)
During his journey of discovery — sometimes harrowing, sometimes funny, sometimes touching — Carpenter meets a middle-aged divorcee, Pat Monday (played by Susan Dolan), and an unlikely pair of London flatmates, barmaid Tamyra (Anita Holland) and anarchistic sculptor Harry (Tommy Barron). Meanwhile, back in Lincoln, Nancy contends with Bud (Tony Larimer), their pastor's father.
Scott notes that as Carpenter travels — in a time frame that covers maybe two to three months — he takes steps and missteps, "but ultimately comes back to a hopeful position; changed, but hopeful. This hits on all kinds of topics. It's particularly timely in the current debate about creationism vs. evolution.
"While Carpenter's emotional collapse creates a void in his life and his world, his wife and daughter also pay the price. There are consequences to these things that he does in trying to regain his balance in life."
SLAC cautions that "Man From Nebraska" contains adult language and themes and brief nudity.
Scott said that scenery designer Keven Myhre's set is minimalist and very functional, allowing the drama to quickly shift from one scene to another. "The audience is truly a partner in this, with both their imagination and listening. It's a very lovely script with some interesting points."
K.L. Alberts has designed the costumes, with James M. Craig in charge of the lighting and Cynthia L. Kehr handling the sound.
Discounted preview performances will be Tuesday-Thursday of this week at 7:30 p.m. Regular performances, following Friday's official opening night, will be Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m.
Preview tickets are $23. Regular admission is $27.50 and $33.50, with all tickets for those 30 and under priced at $18 (proof of age required). Tickets are available at the SLAC box office (363-7522) or any ArtTix outlet (355-2787 or www.arttix.org).
TWO DISCUSSIONS: A panel discussion and open forum will be held on Sunday, Nov. 20, immediately following the 2 p.m. matinee.
Also, the second in SLAC's series of "Big Conversations" will be 1-3 p.m. the same day in the Chapel Theatre, on the topic of "Personal Journeys: Why Do They Happen? How Many Do We Get?"
Nancy Borgenicht is moderator, and panelists include Mayor Rocky Anderson, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Geralyn Dreyfous ("Born Into Brothels"), the Rev. Tom Goldsmith of the First Unitarian Church, and Heidi McIntosh, conservation director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
If you go
What: "Man From Nebraska"
Where: Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North
When: Tuesday through Dec. 11
How much: $13-$33.50
Phone: 363-7522 or 355-2787
Web site: www.arttix.org