Catching a production like UVU’s March of the Salt Soldiers is a rare opportunity; if you are reading this newspaper, the script was written specifically for you. There will be a character you can relate with, and the subject of the dialogue directly effects you.
James Arrington, a professor at UVU, teamed up with local playwright Mahonri Stewart under the commission of the Utah Sesquicentennial Committee to create a play about the Utah War. What they came up with is a well-presented conversation about issues of church vs. state in Utahan history from a Mormon, non-Mormon, and ex-Mormon point of view.
The play begins by forcing you to think about the Utah War — but not in an overbearing way. Even though it is contemporary theater, the actors won’t be asking you to make any verbal contributions. This initial mental stimulation serves to warm the audience up to the intellectual dialogue during the body of the play.
The authors did a particularly good job in writing something that was both informative and interesting. The script transitions gracefully between hard information about “Buchanan’s Blunder” and plot and character development. The interpersonal relations of the characters prove that the issues of church vs. state and Mormons vs. non-Mormons that lead to the Utah War are still problematic today.
At about forty minutes into the production, it starts to feel a bit long. The actors keep it rolling at a good rhythm, but with so much dialogue and so little visual interest, it is difficult at times for the audience to remain engaged. There is an intermission at around 8:30, and the second act will keep you interested.
All of the acting in the show is good, but there were a few standouts: Benjamin A. Sansom as Dr. Orson Z. Young in particular played his character with a breadth of believable emotion. Lawrence M. McLay portrayed his part with a peaceful Southern wit, especially excelling in comedy. Hank Florence as Dr. Maxwell A. Weismann played an ideal opposing force to Sansom, making every line sound like it was the first time he uttered it.
Near the conclusion of the play, there are a couple plot devices that seem unnatural and unnecessary, but that are used to bring around a tidy conclusion. This may have been a gift to the audience — for Utahan audiences are notorious for liking stories tied up in a bow at the end. The topic of the play, however, would have been better served if the action was inconclusive and the audience members had to tie that bow themselves.
The play shows at Centre stage in the first floor of the Student Center. The seating isn’t raised, so get there early if you don’t want to stare at the back of someone’s head for the evening. And if you have problems sitting for a long time, bring a pillow: The chairs aren’t padded.
March of the Salt Soldiers shows at UVU’s Centre Stage on Sept. 18 and 19 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $6 to $10 and can be purchased at Campus Connection