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For 32 years, Salt Lake Acting Company's annual musical "Saturday's Voyeur" has fought Utah's cultural wars by hurling satirical napalm left, right and center.
Left, right and center, that is, but mostly right.
For this year's edition, writers Nancy Borgenicht and Allen Nevins are crafting barbs worthy of a proverbial tea party, and drawing upon our nation's Founding Fathers (and Gramas) to help the comedic cause.
Founding fathers and grama, Utah style • Say hello to a dreamy plot-line that sees Utah Rep. Carl Wimmer, recast here as "Rep. Dwimmer," stand in for Aaron Burr to draw his concealed weapon on Alexander Hamilton. Thrill to Patrick Henry, a young "gay blade" who sports a "lascivious feather that he uses for erotic suggestion." And cast your eyes on "Grama Betsy Ross," a "plain-speaking patriot of the first order" who stands up for open government in honor of her acronymized moniker even as she berates Utah political figures and their shameless appropriation of the Founders' legacy.
And it all takes place inside the head, or dream, of Cat Lady. She's the endangered "Huntsman Republican" of Yalecrest district of Salt Lake City, who laments her Fox News-watching neighbors and the 5,000-square foot addition to their modest bungalow. Stakes run high as each side rages and her mind plays host to a gallery of characters across the stage.
"Stop! None of this was in my dream!" Cat Lady protests early in the play.
"Without a Government Records and Access Management Act, who's to say?" Alexander Hamilton responds.
Reclaiming the (comedic) flag • While laughs still fly out of every page, this year's script is marked by a subtext of earnestness. Director Cynthia Fleming said Borgenicht has turned many a page of Harvard University history professor Jill Lepore's recent book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History, and has encouraged the cast to do the same.
The storyline was driven, in large part, by watching the Right invoke the Founders ad nauseam, alongside the wearied resignation of the political Left, Nevins said.
"I got tired of people claiming the flag and the founders as their very own, until I realized, 'Hey, if they play this game, we can warp history, too," Nevins said. "At the same time, I was stunned by my liberal friends who said I shouldn't fly the flag on Memorial Day or other national holiday because it belongs to the Right Wing. Well, I want it back."
Paul Revere/Charlie Sheen mashup • The themes of "Voyeur" seemed even more prescient when conservative gadfly Sarah Palin claimed that Paul Revere rode not to warn colonists that "the British were coming," but to warn the British that colonists would not have their guns taken.
"It's as if Al and Nancy have a way of traveling into the future, and bringing it back just in time," Fleming said.
But those who rely on the musical to provide an omnibus of local references have nothing to fear. True to form, this year's "Voyeur" stuffs so many Utah controversies and foibles onto one stage and three acts that keeping up requires an encyclopedic memory for local news items with belly-laugh stamina to match.
Demands on the production's 12-member cast are just as formidable, with some playing upwards of four and even five parts. Some roles cross historical figures with current celebrities.
Kent Harrison Hayes, a veteran of past productions stretching back to 1980, plays a Paul Revere that rode straight into Hollywood bad-boy Charlie Sheen.
"I immediately snorted seven lines of cocaine and slept with the entire female cast in preparation for my role," Harrison joked.
What the BofM musical owes 'Voyeur' • Some may worry "Voyeur's" comedic light now lives in the shadow of the Broadway musical everyone's talking about. If "The Book of Mormon" creators Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez don't owe a debt to SLAC for being theatrical ground-breakers in depicting Mormon missionaries dancing and cracking wise, it could be argued they at least owe Borgenicht and Nevins a hat tip.
Fleming said comparisons are out of range. "It took them seven years to get 'The Book of Mormon' up and running," she said. "We put this together in five weeks."
"Voyeur" remains an annual adventure into the finer details of Utah culture and its accompanying Mormon religion. The musical satire's longevity has made it a rite of passage for Utah newcomers, or anyone else who's felt out of place in the powerful tide of the state's mainstream.
Jeanette Puhich, who plays "wife" to her FOX News Republican husband in Yalecrest, said she still remembers seeing the 1995 production when she first moved to Salt Lake City from Seattle.
"I sat in the audience all by myself, but by the time the show ended I knew I wasn't alone," Puhich said.
'Saturday's Voyeur 2011'
When • Previews June 29-30; Opens July 1 and plays through Sept. 4; Wednesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7 p.m.
Where • Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City
Info • $39-$54. Call 801-363-SLAC or visit http://www.saltlakeactingcompany.org for more information.