"My death will not be wasted. You can kill me, but you can never kill the questions that will be asked about this trial," said Joe Hill, to the Utah Supreme Court justices who upheld his death sentence. Hill was executed 75 years ago this Nov. 19, at the old Utah State Prison in Sugarhouse.
Barrie Stavis' work - about the last months of this union organizer's life - is a romantic play. But it's not any more romantic, passionate or mysterious than the actual events.The first World War was brewing in Europe, and strikes were sweeping across the United States in 1911. That was the year a young Swede, Joseph Hillstrom, came to Salt Lake City.
He was a songwriter, a laborer and a union organizer. Employers feared the union he was organizing: the Industrial Workers of the World, the One Big Union. Politicians feared the anarchy that was spreading through Europe would reach our shores.
As Joe Hill lived in Salt Lake City and worked in the Bingham Mine and agitated for better wages - he also fell in love with a married woman. He was at her house, legend has it, the night a Salt Lake grocer was shot and killed.
The grocer fired back before he died. And when Joe Hill was arrested, three days later, he had a bullet wound in his chest. Hill said he got the wound in a fight with a lady's husband. He wouldn't reveal the lady's name in court.
Under Richard Scharine's direction, Stavis' play is lively and rousing, if a bit uneven.
Robin Youngberg as Hill is suitably idealistic. Matt Mullaney turns in a solid performance as the friend who betrayed him. Krista Romaine Grimmett as his landlady (a high-energy actor) and Mark Adams as the judge and Scott Palmer (in several roles) are also quite credible.
As Hill's friend, Ed, Jared Neumeier seemed stiff, though he relaxed into his part a bit by the end of opening night.
The music is very stirring, especially Angela Simon's solos. (She sings the song Joan Baez made famous, "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.") The audience, quite spontaneously, joined in on several of the songs.
Friday night's performance of "The Man Who Never Died" is already sold out. So if you want to witness the death of man and the birth of a legend, you'd better call quickly for reservations.