A theatrical glimpse into the origins of film: Solid acting, provocative questions and quirky production make for memorable performance

Playwright and UVU professor Melissa Leilani Larson debuted her most recent work, “A Flickering” on April 8 at the Provo Theatre. Directed by Heidi Hathaway, the story concerns the early days of film. It is set in 1916 New York City, when Hollywood was only a risky idea in some investor’s mind. Themes of morality, betrayal, artistry and friendship permeate the tale, which is performed in an intimate and novel style.

“A Flickering” follows Max, an aspiring director and scriptwriter who is trying to make her way in the newly-formed film industry. Her best friend, Samantha, a budding theater actress, agrees to play the lead in Max’s first production. A scandal follows that threatens their friendship — as well as Samantha’s career.

The heart of the production, both in writing and performance, is the relationship between Max and Samantha. A woman obsessed with morality tales, Max has unwittingly become the star of one of them. Samantha, so unwilling to administer cruelty, has become the unfortunate victim of betrayal. The evolution and unfolding of their relationship is thought-provoking and, at times, heartrending.

The acting hits a just right middle ground between rough and refined. The cast is heavily tied to UVU and showcases the level of talent connected to the theatre department. Emily Bell, who was recently seen as Ms. Pennywise in UVU’s production of “Urinetown,” portrays a determined, dynamic, but still somewhat oblivious Max. In contrast, theatre arts major Carrie Joslin makes Samantha come across as more silently determined, but still respectful and kindhearted.

At times, the story line seems predictable. Most major plot points can be assumed five minutes before they actually occur. This flaw is balanced out by tenacious dialogue and a charming style. The script could be performed as a radio drama, a testament to the strength of the writing.

This first production is done in a style reminiscent of the early days of cinema. Live piano, projected grayscale title cards and the feel of the theater itself contribute to the sense that the art of film, while seemingly old to contemporary audiences, is something revolutionary. The way that the actors move the minimalist sets themselves calls back the days when multiple duties were performed by each individual involved in film production.

A final performance will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 19. Tickets can be purchased at the box office for $10-12 one hour before the show or online at www.ProvoStage.org.

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