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Theater review: Plan-B Theatre Company’s “Suffrage”

by on April 4, 2013

Suffrage1

One of the consistent aspects of seeing the plays produced by the Plan-B Theatre Company, for me, is the feeling at show’s end that I really need to learn more about Utah history.

That’s not a complaint–that’s an endorsement, and it certainly is true once again after watching a final preview performance of the world premiere of Jenifer Nii’s Suffrage.

Nii’s story is equal parts family drama, political treatise and religious history, and the trajectory of sister-wives Ruth and Francis as they deal with life in a polygamist family as women fight for the right to vote and Utah efforts toward statehood is remarkably deft in interweaving all its disparate elements.

Nii manages to find a passionate personal story between Ruth (Sarah Young) and Francis (April Fossen) that also covers a lot of historical turf, including the U.S. government’s strong-arming of Utah to outlaw polygamy in exchange for statehood. The sister-wives are dealing with raising their extended family when their husband is put in jail, and Francis’ focus on maintaining the family while Ruth works for the greater good of winning women the vote makes for inherent, enthralling conflict between the two women.

Both actresses give strong performances, with Fossen’s tortured Francis a particularly noteworthy one as she acts as a mother figure to Ruth, even though she is truly a peer. The story manages to illustrate the far-reaching effects of the polygamy-for-statehood tradeoff, and of a woman like Ruth fighting for equal voting rights, on a “typical” polygamist family in which acting in such a rebellious manner is not necessarily embraced.

As always, the Plan-B team creates a striking production out of a spartan stage, creative lighting and sound design–I loved the battle drums acting as markers between scenes, emphasizing all that is at stake for Ruth and Francis as their pursue their respective destinies.

As Nii’s plot winds its way to a conclusion that is both inspiring and somewhat sad for Ruth and April’s personal stories, I found myself hungry to know more about the issues addressed over the course of Suffrage‘s 80-minute running time. If that’s not a testament to a play’s power, I don’t know what is.

Suffrage runs at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center through April 14. Tickets and showtimes are available through the Plan-B Theatre Company Website. (All photos by Rick Pollock)

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