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Utah playwright Eric Samuelsen's "The Ice Front," set at Oslo's National Theatre during the Nazi occupation, will receive a staged reading April 14-15 as part of Pioneer Theatre Company's Play-by-Play series.
The story centers on Birgit, the stage manager, and actors at the famed theater company in 1943, three years into the Nazi occupation. While their national colleagues were actively resisting the German regime, the professional actors continued to live privileged lives in an uneasy truce with cultural ministers.
That is, until a new artistic director commands that they produce a new play, which happens to be a piece of propaganda. If the actors refuse to perform, they're threatened with prison.
In an interesting artistic collaboration, the PTC workshop will feature eight local actors and will be directed by Jerry Rapier, artistic director of Plan-B Theatre, which will stage the premiere of Samuelsen's play in November. Three of the actors have previously created characters in other Samuelsen plays.
"I have admired Eric's work and am excited to have him be a part of this program," says Karen Azenberg, PTC's artistic director. She was intrigued by Samuelsen's historical storytelling about his father and grandfather's homeland and is interested in the play's larger scaled-story, which features a cast of nine.
"The Ice Storm" unfolds with urgency in light of the United States' recent divisive presidential election. "It's not a direct parallel with anything happening now, but it feels relevant," Samuelsen says.
Rapier adds: "Not only is it a love letter to the theater and to his family who were involved in the Norwegian Resistance, it examines what it means to be a patriot."
The playwright has been thinking about elements of the story for nearly three decades. In the 1990s, he conducted research for his dissertation about Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen at the National Theatre, when an archivist directed him to documents detailing the production mounted during the Norwegian Resistance.
But he says it took years for him to create the fictional characters who made the story come alive.
In a different kind of backstage story, the play serves as Samuelsen's tribute to the unsung work of stage technical crews. Birgit "can call sound and light cues, and we can go really theatrical with bomb explosions, just through lights and sound," Samuelsen says. "And we can mess with time and space, we can go back and forth."
He thinks the overall structure of the story is in place, but hopes hearing actors in the reading will help him work on the micro-level in fixing lines of dialogue.
Pioneer Theatre Company's Play-by-Play
Eric Samuelsen's new play, "The Ice Front," gets a staged reading
When • Friday and Saturday, April 14-15, 7:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. on Saturday
Where • Utah Museum of Fine Arts, 410 Campus Center Drive, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $10; http://www.pioneertheatre.org