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Monday, April 22, 2013

The Reviews Are In!

It's been very exciting to see how critics and audiences have been responding to the 10th anniversary production of my play Farewell to Eden. I wanted to send along some of the reviews and press we've been getting.

Blair Howell at the Deseret News-

Full Review:

The finely crafted play was first recognized by Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival adjudicators, winning a major national award for playwright Mahonri Stewart...This anniversary production is handsomely staged under the direction of Ronnie Stringfellow by the Zion Theatre Company. The play is further distinguished by having the playwright’s sister play the lead character, one that she helped form during the development process. Played to perfection by Sarah Stewart, Georgiana Highett is a high-bred intellectual of the upper classes in Victorian England....This is not merely a conversion-to-the-truth story, but Farewell to Eden is a uniquely rewarding character study that is so splendidly played as to make it highly recommended.

Russell Warne at the Utah Theatre Bloggers:

Full Review:


[Mahonri Stewart's script is] highly literary...The trio of actors who played the siblings were talented enough to shoulder intensive roles that demanded great subtlety... That subtlety that pervaded the evening is likely due to the skilled hand of Ronnie Stringfellow, who understood the character- and dialogue-driven nature of Farewell to Eden. Stringfellow kept the action moving at a pleasant pace, and fostered the relationships among the characters that are essential to a successful production of this play... Farewell to Eden is a quiet little play, but an intriguing one full of plot twists and authentic character development. It is certainly the best play written by Mahonri Stewart that I have ever seen, and this production probably has the most pleasantly understated acting that audiences can find in Northern Utah right now. This tenth anniversary production of the play would be a thought provoking experience for anyone who catches Farewell to Eden this month.

Kara Henry at Front Row Reviewers:

Full Review:

First off, the script is one that makes me, a former English major, wish I was back in school so I could trot off to write a paper about its symbolism or perhaps deconstruct it from a feminist point of view. Yet, this depth doesn’t keep it from being accessible. Witty banter, symbolism, broad range of characters, historical figures popping in and out, romantic stories that avoid cliches, and did I mention witty banter and fully fleshed out characters? Please sign me up. I’d like to see it again to make sure I caught all the witty banter. It also has religious themes without being preachy, leaving the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions. I brought my friend along who is not Mormon, and while there are conversion stories in the show, she never felt like that was the point or that she was being preached at...

Ronnie Stringfellow has done an excellent job with direction. I felt the scenes were well-balanced visually, especially when the entire cast was on stage. There are some tricky physical movements which were handled well and looked realistic, even with the audience being very close to the actors. I stayed for the question and answer session after the show, and it was clear to me that a lot of thought had gone into the character development, and it showed abundantly in the actors’ performances. 
For me, the true test of theater, no matter the technical aspects and the other conventions, is 1. Did I enjoy it? 2. Did it make me think or touch me in a personal way? 3. Did it stay with me? It’s rare for me to see a show that doesn’t pass number one, but it’s not that common for a show to pass two and three. This show passes all three easily. (If I’m confessing things as a theater goer, I even had a dream about the show last night.) I know as a theater patron, there are so many shows competing for your attention, but I don’t think you’ll regret taking the time to see this one.

Audience Reviews:

And, of course, we've received a number of informal but lovely audience "reviews." Here's one of my favorites from novelist Marilyn Brown: 
Yes, FAREWELL TO EDEN is amazing. (I know this is long, but some "long-winded critic" needs to weigh in on the LITERARY quality!)

Just having read national bestselling nonMormon novelist Sandra Dallas's
TRUE SISTERS about the fated Martin handcart company, and BELONGING TO
HEAVEN by Gale Sears from Deseret Book, I found a triple comparative study gyrating in my head.

Eden provides an excellent metaphor. Eden is so comfy there is no pressure
on internal conflict or choice (until Lucifer shows up). While Gale Sears's story never leaves Eden (the moral choice is clear both with missionary
work and leprosy), Dallas's novel finds its characters in the lone and
dreary wilderness waiting for further instructions.

But look at Stewart's piece! At last! A fully realized example of a
powerful text that opens with conflict in its exposition, rises to a climax
and furnishes a dynamic ending. And one that grapples clearly with the
results of refusing to leave Eden.

All pieces include "Mormonism." But Stewart's is the most successful
because 1) in the timeless style of Shakespeare, it relentlessly develops
one major character (supported well by others, of course) until we fully
see both her radiance and flaws, 2) it follows a timeline of integrated
scenes that furnish variety and action leading to an appropriate climax and denouement, and 3) the "Mormonism" is almost incidental, yet organic to the story, not solicitous as in Sears' book, or suspect, as in Dallas.

I admit I'm getting more and more impatient to see great Mormon literature before I die! Thanks to Mahonri, we're coming closer. EDEN is a work of art
that aspiring Mormon writers should STUDY!!

I must also credit 2013's UVU novel winner (
novel of remarkable depth and style. There are other literary artists
coming up, but if I began naming them I'd leave someone out. (However, if
they enter the novel competition, our committee will pick them out in a heartbeat!)

For now--if anybody is rising to the top--one of our best is Mahonri
Stewart. I loved his A ROOF OVERHEAD, and now this FAREWELL TO EDEN. So a big hooray for quality! It's coming!

The Daily Herald's Preview Video:
And, finally, The Daily Herald did this video that intercut one of the scenes from the play with an interview with the director Ronnie Stringfellow:

For those who have come to the show already, thank you! If you want, let me know what you thought in the comments box, I would love to hear your response. For those who are in Utah and haven't come yet, I hope you can come. This has probably been one of my best reviewed plays since... well, since UVU originally did it. ;)

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