On January 20, the UVU Theater Department will kick off its spring 2011 season with the infamous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma!.
Written in 1943, Oklahoma! tells the story of settlers trying to tame the wild frontier, while also dealing with problems resulting from falling in love and being rejected. One of the challenges of performing a play that was written over half a century ago is the question of “why is it important to tell this story in 2011?” While the traditional production of Oklahoma! is full of simplicity and fun, UVU professor David Tinney, has readapted it to be more relevant to the social issues of today.
The antagonist in Oklahoma! is Judd, a character who is disliked by the entire town. The play, as originally interpreted, offers little reasoning for Judd to be spiteful and vindictive, as well as for the town to be antagonistic towards him. In Tinney’s production, Judd will be a Native American–a re?ection of the discrimination and prejudices of the time.
Chase Ramsey, a junior majoring in Theater Education, explained, “It is adapted to the way we live right now because of the issues that are going on in the world with immigration, and things like that.” Ramsey continued by saying the message the production is trying to bring across is to accept everybody. “The problems that were going on back then with the Native Americans…[are] still going on right now.”
Theater Education major Jacob Squire, a senior, will be playing the role of Judd. He described his character as more of a victim of society than ?at-out mean, saying, “Throughout the show, it kind of shows that he is a little bit more hated because of who he is, being a Native American, [than] because of what he’s done.”
Squire explained the production is making Judd a much more misunderstood character than simply vicious. Ramsey also commented that Judd is only an antagonist “because people make him that way.”
The reasoning for the different adaptation is a hope that Oklahoma! will not only entertain audiences, but help them realize how relevant and common Judd’s plight still is today. “A normal version of Oklahoma! would be this great, grand, joyous time to just have fun and go see a show,” Squire adds, “but this [production] is playing more into ethics and values.”
Squire also said that there is an increased connection between the characters of Judd and Aunt Eller, played by Lita Giddins. Giddins, a professional actress who is also African American, brings a special tone to not only relationship between Judd and Aunt Eller but to the production as a whole. “She’s been through the prejudices,” commented Squire. “She is a black woman in the territories.”
Working with a professional actress has been a very unique and bene?cial opportunities for the UVU student actors. “It has been one of the best experiences of my life,” Squire remarked. “She is so full of emotion, full of life, and it’s great to see her passion for this, especially since she knows the story so well and is connected to it on such a personal level.”
Oklahoma! will be running Jan. 20-29 in the Ragan Theatre, excluding Sunday. Tickets are $9 for UVU students, $11 for other students, and $13 for the general public. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the performance starts at 7:30 p.m.