Zion Theater Company and Imminent Catharsis Media are presenting national award winning playwright Mahonri Stewart’s play Rings of the Tree on Friday, Feb. 3 and Saturday, February 4 at the Off Broadway Theater in Salt Lake City; as well as Thursday, February 9, Friday the 10th, and Monday the 13th, at the Grove Theater in Pleasant Grove.
Rings of the Tree tells the story of Diana Applesong, a Victorian woman who has experienced tragedy after tragedy in her life. So eventually, after dealing with so much grief, she cloisters herself and her servants into her mansion, essentially cutting herself off from the world. However, a group of explorers stumble upon her secretive existence and set off a chain of events that places her face to face with that which she is most afraid of… love.
“She has experienced a lot of loss and pain in her past,” said Jaclyn Hales who is playing the lead role of Diana Applesong, “Her default reaction is living like a porcelain doll. Everything is beautiful and protected on the outside, but inside she’s nothing… she’s numb. She has nothing left to give… or so she thinks.” Hales is recently making headway in her career with starring roles in films like the upcoming Unicorn City, but she took a break from her film pursuits in LA to work on this show, for which she has expressed a lot of fondness and excitement. “As far as everyone here in the Utah audience, it’s going to be innovative,” said Hales, “It’s super creative and will keep the audiences’ attention and awe factor at a high the whole time.”
Rings of the Tree is not a new story to Utah audiences. It was originally produced at Utah Valley University to very positive audience and critical reaction, and Stewart’s screenplay version of the story won first place in last year’s LDS Film Festival’s Screenplay Competition (which screenplay Imminent Catharsis Media has optioned and plans on making a feature film, once funding is in place). This production of the play, however, is very different than the one that premiered at UVU. Zion Theatre Company and Imminent Catharsis Media are taking a multimedia approach with the show, meaning that in staging it they are also incorporating film and other mediums. The production has required several film shoots, the composition of original music, the use of projection, digital devices and theatre magic.
“This version of the script is much closer to the screenplay than the original stage play,” said playwright Stewart, a Utah native who is currently getting his MFA is Dramatic Writing at Arizona State University. “There is a lot more emphasis on the visual element, the spectacle, the magic. In the past, I’ve focused on language. This time around, although that beautiful language is still a vital component, yet I tried to make room for spectacle… for visions.”
Utah film actor, Danor Gerald, is taking one of the starring roles in the multimedia production, but is also one of the show’s producers. Along with the production’s director Jyllian Petrie, they are creating the show’s film elements and creative multimedia effects. “Rings of the Tree pushes the creative boundaries of theatre, and narrative cinema. Zion Theatre Company and Imminent Catharsis Arts & Media are working together to develop this groundbreaking work of art,” said Gerald, “After doing so many movies in Utah, this project excites me as an actor, and as a producer because it brings me back to my roots in classical live theatre. That’s my first love, plus I get to integrate my new zeal for digital cinema and web-based media to tell this story.”
As indicated, there is a digital, intermedia element to the show which will surprise audiences. “We’ve all been warned at the movies or theatre to turn off our mobile phones and silence our devices,” said Gerald, “But in this show we expect and encourage the audience to bring your web-enabled tablets and smartphones. Bring your headphones, and a splitter for your date. You will want to take the chances we give to you to use them… We aren’t using these as gimmicks. We are making creative technical choices to deliver each part of the story in the most valuable and enjoyable way.”
Director Petrie has both been invigorated and challenged by the production. “It’s been an eye opening experience. I’ve worked for years in theatre and years in film, but I’ve never had to do both at the same time. It’s been very difficult, but very rewarding, but we’re doing the impossible—we’ve basically filmed a movie and rehearsed a play in a matter of weeks! But I’m very excited, because when it all comes together, it’s going to be mind blowing.”
The Off Broadway Theater is located at 272 South Main Street, Salt Lake City. The Grove Theater is located at 20 South Main Street, Pleasant Grove. All performances of the show will be at 7pm. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students/seniors. Tickets for the Salt Lake performances can be purchased at http://theobt.org/ or by calling (801) 355-4628. Tickets for the Pleasant Grove performances can be purchased at www.ziontheatrecompany.com .