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Theater review: 'Farewell to Eden' richly rewarding character study

Published: Saturday, April 20 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

“FAREWELL TO EDEN,” Zion Theatre Company, Echo Theatre, through April 27, $12-$9, ziontheatrecompany.com or purchase tickets at the door

PROVO — The mettle of a man is best evident as his life unravels.

The three main characters in “Farewell to Eden” must depart their own personal Eden when unforeseen circumstances shatter their existence.

The finely crafted play was first recognized by Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival adjudicators, winning a major national award for playwright Mahonri Stewart. “Farewell to Eden” began as a 10-minute scene for a class assignment at Utah Valley State College in 2003. The production made such a lasting impression on the festival’s artistic director, Gregg Henry, that he recalled it as “one of the best original plays I’ve seen” when the recent announcement of a production by what is now known as Utah Valley University was also honored in several categories.

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. She is challenged when two different men, one a childhood friend and the other a mysterious stranger, enter her life.

Accompanying Georgiana and facing their own trials are her siblings, Thomas (Kevin O’Keefe) and Catherine (Cabrielle Andersen). At their father’s death, Thomas must take over the family business, and O’Keefe makes the character intriguing and relatable. Catherine could have been easily played as frivolous, but in the role, Andersen reveals new layers to the younger, pretty sister.

Equally strong are Wes Tolman as Darrel Fredricks, the romantic suitor to both Georgiana and Catherine, and Joseph Reidhead as Stephen Lockhart, who joins The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through his association with a young missionary named Brigham Young (Matthew Davis).

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.

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