Stepping into the square shaped Noorda Theatre, I didn’t know what to expect from The Story Stone, an original UVU Theater department production.
The half-filled seats surrounded the minimalist decorated circular stage, allowing the collective audience a 360-degree perspective of the actors. The first scene presented an atmospheric introduction of tribal chants accompanied by auxiliary percussion from the white arrayed cast.
Then the story unravels. The Story Stone tells the tale of two tribes who have been disputing over a parcel of land for generations. One day, a mute thief from the Pastio tribe, Cor (Aubrey Bench), is captured and enslaved by a respected family of the Nava tribe. Lux (Shawn Saunders), the hot-tempered son of the family is instructed to take Cor into town for an errand.
While in town, they stumble upon a spiritual guru who presents them with the Story Stone. As Lux and Cor touch the stone their minds share the same visualized parable. The guru says that, “The stone will teach you all you need to know.” The two boys must use the Stone in order to bring peace to their contentious tribes.
Much like stories themselves, the play is mostly left up to the imagination of the viewer. The sets were extremely restrained which caused the actors to mime all of their object interactions. A series of interpretive dances and stage blocking allowed the audience to fill in the blanks with their own readings of what was happening on stage.
The Story Stone took a lot of planning and development. Casting took place in early April and the long hours of rehearsals began the beginning of May. Director Barrett Ogden says, “Our process has been a very ensemble-based approach, drawing upon the work of the group to create material and resources that could then be refined and built upon.” The months of preparation truly paid off in the final product.
Wendy Gourley, a UVU alumni playwright currently in residence with Noorda Regional Children’s Theatre, penned the script. She says, “The play is an unabashed love letter to storytelling.” Gourley captured inspiration from Dr. Yoel Perez who was in the midst of Israel’s Six Day War. There he conversed with an Arab man over coffee. He asked, “When will peace come to our country?” The Arab man then answered in the form of a story that made its way into Gourley’s script of The Story Stone.
Ogden says that working with Gourley’s original work was, “…A very exciting process involving a great deal of collaborative work with her.” Given the freedom that licensed scripts don’t allow, the partnership of everyone involved created something spectacular that “was greater than the sum of its parts,” Ogden explains.
There are deep wisdoms in the hour and a half play. In speaking of the story’s meanings, Gourley says, “Where we get in trouble politically, culturally or personally is when we become caught in self-looping stories; when we only listen to voices that reinforce our own.” Many of the stories that the Stone told represented the need to come together once again under the same ideology of unity. It served as a much needed reminder to us of that principle.
An abundant amount of cultures were represented even though they weren’t explicitly mentioned. The music was reminiscent of African and Eastern Asia cultures while the stories reflected other various indigenous peoples.
Although The Story Stone is very unconventional in regards to most other popular productions, the experience was well worth the time and energy. “The audience should be prepared for something adventurous and unusual,” Gourley explains.
The Story Stone may not be for everybody, but for those searching for a multi-cultural emotional stimulation, it’s guaranteed to be rewarding.