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"Based on a True Story," making its world premiere with Plan-B Theatre Company next week, was initially inspired by a photograph of a woman in aviator goggles.
"I don't know why, but my mind went immediately to time travel," said Salt Lake City playwright Elaine Jarvik. "I started thinking what would it be like?"
While most time-travel stories involve a return to the past, Jarvik, a self-described "worrier," went in another direction. "Wouldn't it be cool to go to the future and find out that everything turned out OK?" she asked a week before the opening of the play, which sold out all 10 performances before rehearsals began. Two shows have been added, but with limited ticket availability.
Jarvik ultimately created a futuristic place in which Megan (Nell Gwynn) travels the wrong way on the Past-Future Highway and gets stuck 30 years in the future. As she worries she may never get back to her husband (Mark Fossen), Megan befriends Chuck (Jason Bowcutt), a fellow time refugee with an even more complicated story.
Jarvik weaves the idea of time throughout the play. "I'm really interested in time and how we are trapped in the time we are living in," she said, noting that there are good things about living in 2016, such as medical advances, but there also are pitfalls.
She identifies most with the character of Megan. "I'm a 'worrywart' and not a big traveler. I tend to want to stay put," she said. But on the occasions she is forced to travel, "I'm always happy that I did."
Jarvik is becoming a familiar name in Salt Lake City theater circles. Salt Lake Acting Company premiered her first play "(a man enters)," co-written with her daughter Kate Jarvik Birch, in 2011, and last year it produced her play "Two Stories."
As the title of the play implies, "Based on a True Story" is an examination of the stories people tell, a longtime obsession for Jarvik, a freelance writer and former career newspaper reporter. Sometimes our stories are truthful, other times they are embellished and tidied up for our own purposes, she said.
That, of course, leads to the play's third theme: faith, something Jarvik wrestles with each Sunday. "I go to church," she said, "but I haven't totally bought into the story they tell."
It was that struggle with faith and religion that attracted Plan-B's managing director, Cheryl Ann Cluff, to the story.
"Megan must forge her own path without something like faith, which is something that works for everyone else, but not for her," said Cluff, who also is overseeing the sound design for the show.
Along with the prop and set designer, Cluff said the crew has enjoyed creating "what we think this [futuristic] world is like." She promised attendees some interesting lighting effects, a unique addition to the aesthetic of Plan-B's minimalist set design.
Nell Gwynn, who plays Megan, sees her character as an everywoman whose journey is symbolic of the losses and questions humans face daily. "Everybody will identify with the ups and downs she has."
Megan may be the main character, but Gwynn, Cluff and Jarvik are especially fond of Chuck. Gwynn compared the character to Clarence, Jimmy Stewart's guardian angel in the iconic film "It's a Wonderful Life."
"He's a tricky character, but wonderful," she said. "It's a joy to get to have a relationship like that onstage."
Jason Bowcutt returns to the stage after an eight-year acting hiatus he's been directing to play Chuck. After reading the script, Bowcutt told Jerry Rapier, Plan-B's artistic director, that "if I were to come back, this is the character that would do it."
"[Chuck] has this innocence to him," Bowcutt explained. "He moves from a good place and has a good, tender heart."
A worthy trait no matter what era in which your life happens to land.
Plan-B presents 'Based on a True Story'
While traveling in time, characters confront doubt and discomfort in the world premiere of "Based on a True Story," by Utah playwright Elaine Jarvik.
When • Feb. 25-March 6. Most shows are sold out. Limited ticket availability March 2 at 8 p.m. and March 6 at 5:30 p.m.
Where • Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20; students, $10; planbtheatre.org
Waitlist • A prepaid wait list begins one hour before each sold-out performance, and individuals must be at the box office to be added to the list. At show time, those on the wait list will be seated, in order, in any open seats. Those unable to be seated will receive a full refund.
Preview • The preview show, a benefit for the Statera Foundation for women in theater, is Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. Tickets are $20, but additional donations accepted. Details: staterafoundation.org/plan-b/