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'Farewell to Eden' absorbing but bleak

"FAREWELL TO EDEN," Zion Theatre Company, 100 N. 105 East, Provo, through Jan. 25; running time 2 hours 15 minutes (one intermission)

PROVO — Considering this was originally written as a student play, "Farewell to Eden" is brilliant.

It's complicated, not very predictable and has a lot of depth and characterization.

It's not a very cheery play, so don't go for laughs. It clearly holds your attention — especially in the scenes that feature a very wicked-looking dagger. (Kudos to the actors for wielding it without harming one another.)

The story appears to be a simple one. A plain, older sister is so uptight she can't enjoy life. The younger, prettier sister looks as if she'll both get the man and the attention. Add in Mormon Church leaders Brigham Young and John Taylor, and you think you know where this story is going.

However, Georgiana Highett, played masterfully by Jamie Denison, has a great deal more going for her than first appears. She shows a surprising amount of strength and courage as the story unfolds.

The younger sister, played by Rebecca Minson, is more of a victim than you expect.

Their brother, Thomas Highett (played by Derrik Legler), actually offers most of the comic relief.

Darrel Fredericks, played by Amos Omer, is the lecherous villain and is really pretty creepy.

Stephen Lockhart, played by William McCallister, is the love interest who joins the LDS Church after successfully wooing the buttoned-up Georgiana, thus breaking her heart.

Kaye Woodworth plays the snooping, motherly maid and makes a fun character out of her role. She never gets a cliche right, by the way.

Others in the cast include Tanika Little as seamstress Hannah Whitefield; Haily Nebeker as her sister; Thom Neil as Brigham Young; Jeff Bond as John Taylor; and G. Randall King as Harold Lowe. All do credible jobs, but Little is the standout — she's guileless.

It's clear that everyone is invested in this production, although there were some distracting slip ups and line hesitations on opening night.

Also, there are some transitions and story developments that seem to come on a bit too quickly, such as Lockhart's conversion to the church. It's also a very talky show.

The costumes are really quite remarkable, and the costume dolls are gorgeous.

The beautifully appointed mansion makes a nice backdrop for this Victorian story.

Again, it's a story that doesn't go where one expects, and there's not a happy wrap-it-all-up ending, so one leaves the theater slighting dissatisfied.

But it's watchable.

This play has definite potential. Maybe it just needs a bit more hope.