WSU announces season of award-winning plays

Friday , July 18, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Standard-Examiner staff

Weber State University’s performing arts department hopes local audiences enjoy its upcoming season of plays. But the shows already have been approved by the Tony Awards, the Drama Desk Awards, the Pulitzer Prize and the Laurence Olivier Awards.

“We are proud to present to Utah audiences a diverse season that includes award-winning plays from a variety of genres and for a diverse set of interests,” said Madonne Miner, dean of the Telitha E. Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities.

Last season’s theme was new plays.

“It was great,” said Jenny Kokai, a WSU faculty member who teaches theater education, history and playwriting. “Our audiences responded really positively, even though they weren’t familiar with the plays. And we, collectively — the directors, students designers and actors — really enjoyed the learning experience. The plays we worked on are now going out into the world and becoming really successful.”

This season features crowd-pleasing musical theater, and works for audience members who like deeper fare.

“She Loves Me” plays at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 3, 4 and 7-11, with an Oct. 11 matinee. Faculty member Jim Christian directs this Tony-winning musical, set in 1930s Budapest, about a man and a woman who correspond anonymously through a “lonely hearts” ad. The two become mutually smitten, not realizing they are, in fact, co-workers who loathe each other.

Christian reportedly chose “She Loves Me” because if its beautiful score, wonderful plot, its warmth and romance, and the character opportunities for student actors.

“Wit” plays at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7, 8 and 11-15, with a matinee Nov. 15. The Margaret Edson play won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play.

It tells the story of an uncompromising English professor weighing what is important in her life as she battles late-stage cancer and undergoes experimental treatments.

“She’s a poetry professor who studies John Donne’s poetry because it’s the hardest thing she can possibly teach her students,” said Tracy Callahan, the professor directing the show. “It’s a lot about knowledge and letting down her guard, and the difference between being in a classroom and being in charge, and being a really vulnerable person with medical people in charge of her life.”

The play is emotionally charged, said Catherine Zublin, a professor who teaches costume design and history.

“It’s just 90 minutes, but I have never been able to read it straight through without crying,” Zublin said.

Callahan said the play is often used to teach doctors empathy.

“It’s a highly dramatic play, really powerfully written, and a tour de force for one actress,” she said.

“Damn Yankees” plays at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20, 21 and 24-28, with a Feb. 28 matinee. The Tony-winning musical will be directed by Christian, who heads Weber State’s musical theater program.

The plot follows a baseball fanatic, Joe Boyd, who would give anything to help the luckless Washington Senators beat the Yew York Yankees. He’d even sell his soul.

Christian said he likes the show for its exciting choreographic opportunities and production numbers. Among his favorite songs are standards “Heart” and “Whatever Lola Wants.” Christian said the show is one of the best-known classics of American musical theater, and it’s a “terrific comedy” that focuses on baseball, “the All-American sport.”

“Arcadia” plays at 7:30 p.m. March 27, 28 and March 31-April 4, with an April 4 matinee. Kokai will direct this Tom Stoppard drama, set in one room but in two centuries.

“It’s set in contemporary England and the 1800s, and ongoing events in this upper-class house, a bit like ‘Downton Abbey,’ ” Kokai said. “In contemporary times, historians are piecing together what happened, and it’s about where they are right and where they are wrong.

“Tom Stoppard is a really smart writer, and writes about people with a lot of comedy and things people can relate to, like romance and wanting to be successful, but he couches them in things that seem really complicated. He makes iterative algorithms accessible.”

Student actors will learn from the complicated language and the need for English accents, Kokai said. Audiences will enjoy the interesting characters, the history, and the adult-theme scandals and gossip of the household, she said. The scenic designer will be selected through a design competition.

• The “One Act Play Festival” will be at 7:30 p.m. April 21-25, with an April 25 matinee. Directing students will select their one-act plays to helm as their final projects.

“Students pick them, students direct them, students design them,” Kokai said. “They work with a mentor, but are ultimately responsible. It’s high risk, and it’s great to see what they come up with. Depending on which night you come, you can see a wide spectrum of things you might not see anywhere else, period.”

Callahan teaches the directing class.

“I really don’t like to micromanage them,” she said. “There are places they can make choices, which are sometimes successful. Every year, there are one or two standouts and a few that struggle. They put the pressure on themselves, testing their wings and trying new things. It’s a steppingstone to designing or directing a larger show.”

Tickets for shows in WSU’s theater season are now on sale. Seats are $12 for adults, $10 for children, seniors and members of the military. Visit or call 801-626-8500. Shows are performed in the Browning Center at Weber State, 3848 Harrison Blvd., Ogden.

Contact Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or Follow her on Twitter at @SE_NancyVanV; on Facebook at

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