Sunday, my wife and I had a nice drive from Provo to Heber. Provo Canyon’s beautiful this time of year, and the highway was colorfully festooned with orange cones, creating a challenging and fun obstacle course to test my wife’s driving skills. And Heber has such a nice small-town feel. We were heading up to the home of Debora Threedy, for a staged reading of my new play, now titled Clearing Bombs.
The play is about a moment in 1942, when two economists spent the night on the roof of a building. The two economists were John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayak, the current darlings of the respectively Left and Right in our present political climate, and they were on the roof to protect King’s College Chapel, in Cambridge, from German incendiary bombs.
That actually happened, but what’s not known is what they talked about. I figured it would probably be economics, and I added a third character, Mr. Bowles, a fire warden up from London, so there’d be someone there they could explain things to. Writing this play required that I read massive amounts of economic theory, basically everything I could find in print from those two Nobel laureates. Economics uses lots and lots of numbers and numbers are not my friends, but I plowed through, got my head around enough economics to write a play about it, and Sunday we read its latest iteration.
At the reading were three marvelous actors: Jay Perry, Mark Fossen, and Kirt Bateman, playing, from left to right, Hayek, Keynes, and Mr. Bowles. Before the reading, all three professed discomfort at having to use German, upper-class British and lower-class British accents. All three promptly killed it. They were, quite unremarkably, remarkable. Brilliant actors, it turns out, act brilliantly, even holding scripts in hand and without rehearsal.
Also in the room; my wife, Jerry Rapier, artistic director of Plan B Theatre in Salt Lake (which has expressed interest in the play), and other playwrights, including Julie Jensen, Jenifer Nii, Elaine Jarvik, Matthew Bennett, and our hostess for the afternoon, Debora Threedy.
These are all wonderful writers. Just wonderful. I’ve seen plays by all of them, and I’m in awe at their eloquence and humanity and talent. Is this a Who’s Who of terrific Utah playwrights? I’d add Tim Slover and Scott Bronson and Melissa Leilani Larson, but yes. This is at least a terrific cross-section. I was honored to be in that room.
How do you create a community? These writers are all people I admire, all people I have met and chatted with at times, but we don’t hang out much. For one thing, I live in Provo. Debora lives in Heber, a much cooler town. The rest of them live in Salt Lake City, an exponentially cooler city. But out of pure friendship, or maybe just a desire to have playwriting be good in this state, out of love of the art form itself, they offered their generously shared expertise.
Plan B is a miraculous place anyway. The business model for small local Equity theatres tends to be to do well established plays, maybe once in a blue moon doing new work by local authors, if it seems commercial enough. Plan B does, almost exclusively, new plays, political theatre, plays not only by local playwrights but about Utah history, or issues relating to our community. What makes Plan B great is its audience, which is passionate and informed and smart and amazing. Jerry Rapier knows his audience, and they’ve come to trust (as they should) his theatrical insight and taste.
Salt Lake City is the headquarters of the LDS Church, and everyone knows Mormons are politically and culturally conservative. But Salt Lake is neither. There’s a huge liberal, progressive community in Salt Lake, plus a large LGBT community. It’s one of the most gay friendly cities in the US. And the Church’s Presiding Bishopric has worked with the city’s political leadership and the LGBT community to support anti-discrimination legislation in housing and employment. Read that last sentence, and tell me the apocalypse isn’t nigh. But it’s completely (and wonderfully) true.
Utah’s still Utah, and the state legislature does annually pass-or at least try to pass- amazingly silly social legislation, but meanwhile, for a socially and politically liberal Mormon like myself, Salt Lake is my refuge. And Plan B is my second home.
And we read the play, and who knows what will happen with it. Even if Plan B produces it, I completely suck at marketing my plays elsewhere. I just don’t know how to do it. And I tend to have this weird psychological quirk, wherein, once a play has been produced, and I’ve seen it on its feet, scratched that itch, I’m sort of . . . done. I’ve got one, about Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci that I think could work anywhere, but I don’t know how to sell it. But I’m old and fat and sick, and still working. And meanwhile I have found this community. I cannot adequately express my gratitude.