Reviews: Farewell To Eden

My play Farewell To Eden, which has its closing performances this Friday, Saturday (matinee and evening, and Monday) at the Provo Theatre (105 East, 100 North in Provo), has been getting some good press. As some shameless self promotion and a plug for the closing performances, I wanted to share a couple of the positive reviews.

First, one from AML’s Nan McCulloch, who is one of my favorite theatre reviewers (and not just because she’s generally very supportive of my plays). Nan’s just one of the more insightful and intelligent theatre critics I’ve come across… and it doesn’t hurt that she always seems to “get” my plays. :] Here’s the link to her review on the AML discussion board:

http://www.forums.mormonletters.org/yaf_postsm1967_STEWART-Farewell-to-Eden.aspx#1967

Second, one from the Deseret News. For the record, although the reviewer Sharon Haddock thought the play lacked some “hope,” I would respectfully disagree. I just think the hope in the play is more subtle than she would have liked… perhaps she would have preferred a more wrapped up ending, so we’ll just have to disagree artistically. Otherwise, she was very complimentary. Here’s the link:

 http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705359376/Farewell-to-Eden-absorbing-but-bleak.html

  For those who are interested in seeing the closing performances, you can make reservations by sending an e-mail to zion.theatre.company@gmail.com , with your name, how many tickets you want, and for which performance you want. Performances start at 7:30 on evenings, and 2 pm for the matinee.

My 2009 Mormon Literature Wish List

For those of you keeping track: this year I read sixty-eight books (if you don’t include the Calvin and Hobbes and Fox Trot compilations I skim while brushing my teeth and the countless picture books I’ve read my kiddos) and twenty-four of them were Mormon–not quite as many as last year and not enough of them are Mormon classics, but I still stumbled on to some really satisfying reads. Here’s my ranking of the Mormon books I encountered during 2009. (Here’s my 2008 list.) Just in case any of you are still looking for Christmas gifts I’ve conveniently linked the titles to Amazon.com (which means if you buy them after clicking through from AMV some of your money will support the hosting costs for our site! Thanks in advance!!).

Books I wish I owned:

Byuck by our very own Theric, er, I mean, Eric Jepson. This is the best link I could conjure up for this quirky never-published novel about the fight to stay single while attending BYU. So sad it never made it into print. Maybe if we’re all really nice Theric will serialize it on his blog!

No Going Backwards by Jonathon Langdon. Gay Mormon teen. Need more? Then check out the website.

Slumming by Kristen D. Randle (To read my interview with Randle click here.) What I loved about this book was how uncompromisingly Mormon it was and how uncompromisingly national market it was. Okay. It wasn’t exactly Gossip Girl, but the fact that the book works in both worlds made me so happy.

Breaking Rank by Kristen D. Randle. This one had closet Mormons but the teenage protagonist’s decision making process was so true to teenage Mormons. I loved it.

Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poems I had no idea how awesome Mormon poetry was until I bought this. It was truly the best forty-six cents I ever spent!

The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery by Kathryn Lynard Soper. If you know a Mormon mommy who loves memoirs and haven’t bought this book yet for her, then now is the time. Seriously beautiful book.

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams. I read this one for an ecobiography writing seminar and I was glad. TTW is a controversial and watershed figure not only in Mormon environmental writing but also in Mormon feminist writing and Mormonism as a culture and not just a religion. This book, part memoir and part ecology lesson, is a great place to start with her.

Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen. This book really pushed my litmus test, making me extremely uncomfortable in the process, but I felt like it was done artfully and purposefully and that made me glad. Read my interview with Todd Robert Petersen for more.

The Conversion of Jeff Williams by Douglas Thayer. This book about a California teen’s summer in the heartland of Mormonism is the novel that will shut the mouth of all the your Mormon fiction naysaying friends. Beautifully written, intensely thoughtful, this is one that demands repeat readings.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George. For you readers who love teen fiction (it’s okay to admit it; I do too!) or just enjoy having a thought provoking book to read with your kids, this creative amalgam of Norse mythology and the Cupid/Psyche myth will delight. George is popular for her Dragon Slippers series and if you liked those you will LOVE this one.

The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull. I love tween literature that encourages questioning and viewpoint broadening without being all Lord of the Flies or One Fat Summer about it. By creating an old lady of dubious motivations who makes candies that give kids super powers Mull does a great job of entertaining and pushing kids to think about consequences without preaching or settling for easy answers. I’m still waiting for a ten year old to read this book so I can chat with them about it. Really well done.

Books that were worth the inter-library loan:

Benediction: a Book of Stories by Neal Chandler. (Not everyone loves this book. A lot of people find it offensive. But I thought it was such a great parody of some of the wilder small town personalities I grew up with. Read my original post here.)

The Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D. Randle. (Basically a novelization of the old “Cipher in the Snow” story. Interesting!)

Secrets by Blaine M. Yorgason (Quintessential Deseret Book “issue” novel. Tackles an important subject but tends to gloss over the difficulties.)

People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture by Terryl L. Givens (Probably the most important book for Mormon culture scholars and you should read it. But you might not tackle it more than once.)

A FUTURE FOR TOMORROW – Surviving Anorexia – My Spiritual Journey by Haley Hatch Freeman (Read my original review here. I also believe that this book should not be read without also reading Michael Greenberg’s Hurry Down Sunshine–just to give some context the psychotic break of it all.)

Books that are worth reading if someone hands it to you:

Circle Dance by Sharlee Mullins Glenn

Hold On, the Light Will Come: And Other Lessons My Songs Have Taught Me by Michael McLean

Abinadi by Heather B. Moore (For more of my thoughts on this book read here.)

River Secrets (The Books of Bayern)River Secrets (The Books of Bayern, #3) by Shannon Hale

Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA by Lance Allred (My original review.)

Austenland: A Novel by Shannon Hale

Dragon Flight (Dragon Adventures) by Jessica Day George

All this has got me wondering, what Mormon books did you read this year and what did you think? Any you enjoyed enough to shell out money for? I need recommendations for next year!

Ric Estrada: Grounded in reality

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I love the form; I’ve always have a, always had a love/hate relationship with comics: I love the form, but some of the content are not to my liking.

Yeah, I’ve read you’re not a big superhero fan.

No, I’m not. I’ve done a lot of superheroes, but basically I’d rather have more uh, less fantastic stories.

I read — I read also that you, um, prefer war stories over other types because of the Cuban Revolution? Would you agree with that?

Well, not really, what I said is I prefer war stories because having been raised in the 1930s in Cuba and having seen a lot of fighting, a lot of terrorism around me. The first memory of my life was my house being surrounded by a mob —

Oh dear.

— and shot to pieces by a mob.

Mmhmm.

When I think of war stories, of the children, I think of the grownups going through all that horror and it is very real to me; and superheroes flying in the air are not very real to me, frankly.

I can understand that.

Yes. So, you know, and, uh, also, during my teens, that was the time of World War Two, and the movies and the newsreels and the air just sizzled with the idea of winning the war against the Nazis.

Mmhmm.

And so so that’s very much in my consciousness. And the two kinds of stories that I like are either war stories where you see an ordinary person become a hero —

Mmhmm.

— or stories of uh human relations.

Continue reading “Ric Estrada: Grounded in reality”

Theater Review: Tim Slover’s “Hancock County” Has Passion at Westminster College

Hancock County, performed last week by Westminster College in Salt Lake City, was a riveting evening of theater. The thing is, though, that no matter who performs it, or how well, that level of interest is going to be the case, because of the inherent drama in the story and the skill of Slover’s writing. So even though Westminster’s production had its apparent flaws to detract from its strengths, the production still stood firmly on its feet. The passion of the actors also helped make the production not only a sturdy presence, but also allowed it at times to take flight.

But before I go full steam into the review, I should make a side note. The problem with my theater reviews is that I often attend closing night, so people can’t attend the show even if I have heartily recommended it. The good thing about Hancock County, however, is that it is part of the upcoming Saints On Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama which I’m currently editing for Zarahemla Books. So, although Westminster College’s production of it is finished, you can watch out for the play in Saints On Stage in the next several months.   Continue reading “Theater Review: Tim Slover’s “Hancock County” Has Passion at Westminster College”

The New Play Project Presents Swallow The Sun

The New Play Project is performing the world premiere of national award-winning playwright Mahonri Stewart’s “Swallow the Sun,” a new play based on the early life of C.S. Lewis, author of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Screwtape Letters,” “Mere Mere Christianity” and “Till We Have Faces.”

Although Stewart said that this play holds special significance for him personally, “The work of C.S. Lewis has had a meaningful influence upon me since I was young. It is due to him that my work is as religious as it is. To borrow Lewis’ own words, he ‘baptized my imagination.'”

The play centers around Lewis’ conversion to Christianity. “People are surprised when I tell them that C.S. Lewis was once an entrenched atheist,” said Stewart, “He became such a powerful advocate for Christianity that people have a hard time seeing him as anything but. But the reason he was such a powerful voice was because he had been on the other side. He knew their arguments, he felt the weight of their reasons.”

Although the play has strong religious content, Stewart assures that the play is neither saccharine, nor didactic. “It is a conversion story, no doubt about it, but the men that effected Lewis’ conversion were no intellectual lightweights. People like Hugo Dyson, Owen Barfield and the famed J.R.R. Tolkien were powerful, extremely intelligent individuals. They had tremendous impact on the change that happened in Lewis. I have strived to write this play with that in mind — to make it visceral, emotional, intellectual, lyrical, real.”

Where: Provo Theatre Company, 105 E. 100 North, Provo
When: 7:30 p.m. May 16, 17, 19, 23, 24; 2:30 p.m. May 17, 24
Cost: $10/$8 students, seniors
Phone: 830-4553
Web: www.newplayproject.org/tickets

Beauty and the Beard

Facial hair as a barometer for evil as typified in The Work and the Glory series.

This post will examine all three of The Work and the Glory films. For the sake of clarification, only the first, Russell Holt’s The Work and the Glory, will be referenced by that title. The two sequels, both directed by Sterling Van Wagenen, will be referred to by their subtitles – American Zion and A House Divided, respectively. It should also be noted that while a few comparisons will be made between the films and the books by Gerald Lund, this criticism focuses uniquely on the films.

With the publishing of The Work and the Glory: A Pillar of Light in 1990, Gerald Lund began what has become the best-selling series of LDS historical fiction to date. The nine book series has sold over two million copies and the book on tape has reportedly also sold exceptionally well. But the series received what seems to have become the ultimate validation in this day and age when Larry H. Miller announced in 2003 that it would be adapted into a feature film. “With this much of a following,” Miller stated,” and with the significance of the events the series examines, it’s time to make this historical story into a quality feature film.”

The magnitude of the undertaking was underlined by the involvement of Deseret Books’ own president and CEO Sheri L. Dew, who personally represented the interests of both author and publisher. Even then, Lund was brought on board as a script consultant. “We don’t underestimate the magnitude of this film project,” said producer Scott Swofford. “We are properly funded, have a book that flows easily into a screenplay, and have collected the most qualified talent to produce what we believe will be a film of excellence. This story requires that.” Added Dew, “The Work and the Glory series is one-of-a-kind. As the publisher of this series, we have complete confidence in the integrity of those producing this movie and that the integrity of the books will be maintained while crafting an artistic and first-rate movie. Everyone involved with this production epitomizes excellence and quality. This movie is going to touch many lives.”

The purpose of this critique is to examine the story thematics in light of the need to tailor a written work to the demands of the visual consumer, which the films do largely by reducing or replacing outright depictions of evil with the presence of facial hair. Continue reading “Beauty and the Beard”

“The Enoch Letters” by Neal A. Maxwell

The Deseret Book Conference Sale circular arrived earlier this week. I was intrigued by the description of a book by Elder Neal A. Maxwell. It’s called The Enoch Letters. It turns out that it is a reprint — the original work was published in 1975 and republished in 1981 as Of One Heart: The Glory of the City of Enoch.
Here is the description:

“In the tradition of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis comes this fascination work of historical fiction from the mind of Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Letters from a man named Mahijah to a friend outside the city of Enoch vividly portray life inside a Zion society.” Continue reading ““The Enoch Letters” by Neal A. Maxwell”