Three of the seven plays opening this week along the Wasatch Front are on university and college campuses in Salt Lake City. They are "Peer Gynt" at Pioneer Memorial Theatre, "Toys in the Attic" at Westminster College and "The Murder Room" at Salt Lake Community College. (See related story on Page E7).

- PEER GYNT - Described as "wild, exuberant and brilliant," this is Henrik Ibsen's mesmerizing odyssey of an ultimately forgivable rogue and his self-absorbing struggle to be himself.Part folktale, part epic poem and part carnival pageant, Pioneer Theatre Company Artistic Director Charles Morey, who is also directing the production, has pared Ibsen's original 5-hour version ("It was written to be read, not staged," he said) down to a more palatable two and one-half hours.

"The one thing I can say with reasonable certainty is that, at its heart, `Peer Gynt' tells the story of a spiritual journey," said Morey.

A cast of 24 from New York, Canada and the Wasatch Front will be seen in stage designer George Maxwell's magical world of troll kingdoms, Egyptian madhouses, Norwegian shipwrecks and more - using a revolving stage to bring it all together.

The cast includes Thomas Schall in the title role, with Elizabeth Perry as Ase, his mother. Both have worked extensively on Broadway and elsewhere. Peter Messaline of Canada will be the Troll King, with New Yorker Bonnie Black (previously seen at PTC in three Shakespearean plays) as the Woman in Green.

Joyce Cohen, last seen in "Dracula," will perform the role of Solveig, Gynt's faithful and redeeming love, with Richard Mathews, a veteran of 31 PTC productions, as the Button Moulder.

New York-based Spencer Beckwith, last seen here in PTC's "The Three Musketeers," is cast as the Lean One.

Frank Gerrish, Robert Peterson, Sam Stewart, Sandra Shotwell and Michael Ruud are among other local Equity players in the show. Also in the cast are Dan Larrinaga, Robert Ormsby, Britt Sady, David Spencer, Michael Behrens, Shawn E. Bender, Holly Claspill, Doug Fahl, Lurissa La Shay Gines and Rebecca Holt.

PTC Musical Director James Prigmore has composed an original score for "Peer Gynt," less romantic and closer to Ibsen's modern, existential play than Greig's masterpiece.

Play dates are: Mondays-Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., beginning Wednesday, March 20, and continuing through Saturday, April 6, on the Lees Main Stage of the Pioneer Memorial Theatre complex, 300 South and 1340 East (Broadway at University) on the University of Utah campus.

Admission is $11 to $18 on weekday evenings, $12.50 to $20 on Friday and Saturday evenings, and $8 to $15 for Saturday matinees, with discounts available for students and groups. For reservations, call 581-6961.

- THE MURDER ROOM is an off-the-wall mystery-farce by British playwright Jack Sharkey.

Director Scott Anderson, who has acted and directed on stages throughout the Wasatch Front, is excited about this show - one he directed before in 1988 for the Zion Repertory Theatre Company at Zion National Park.

Anderson promises that "The Murder Room" is the kind of comedy that allows audiences to just have fun. "It encompasses a murder mystery with farcical gags, broad humor and clever dialogue."

Anderson's cast, he feels, is one of those that just happens to come together in the right place at the right time. It's a mix of experienced professionals and talented college students.

"The thing I like most about directing is working with people who are not only talented, but who offer their own opinions. There's an esprit decor with a lot of give and take," said Anderson.

His cast includes T.S. Nielsen (last seen as the Major General in "Pirates of Penzance" and in two recent productions at Desert Star Playhouse) and Jane Axson, regarded as one of the area's funniest comediennes, as Edgar and Mavis Hollister. (She wants him eliminated - and maybe he is, maybe he isn't.)

Others in the small cast are Annette Wright (most recently the exasperated wife in "Don't Drink the Water" at Hale Center Theater) as the Hollisters' maid; Alysa Revell-Greenhalgh as Susan, Edgar's daughter; Ryan Bowen as Inspector James Crandall, and Allan Versteeg as Barry Draper, a young American and Susan's fiance who injects the plot with a dash of good old American know-how.

Clif Davis has designed the sets, with Diane Allen in charge of costumes, Duane Woodruff supervising the lighting and sound, and Beth Feveryear as stage manager.

Anderson also noted that Margaret Aoki, who works in theater at SLCC, is the assistant director. She takes over for him on Thursday and Friday rehearsals when he is traveling around the country as a speaker for American Business Seminars of Provo.

"The Murder Room" opens Friday, March 22, and continues on Mondays through Saturdays until April 6 in the Little Theater of the Calvin L. Rampton Technology Building at Salt Lake Community College, 4600 S. Redwood Road. Curtain is 8 p.m. nightly. There will also be a matinee at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 6.

Admission is $8 ($6 for the matinee) and all seats are reserved. Discounts are available for SLCC students, high school students and senior citizens. For reservations, call 967-4509.

- TOYS IN THE ATTIC, Lillian Hellman's award-winning drama probing the frayed relationships of a New Orleans family, will be TheatreWorks West's final production in Walker Hall at Westminster College.

(TWW's next show, the ever-popular "A. . .My Name Is Alice," will be the company's premiere production in the exciting new Jewett Center for the Performing Arts, nearing completion on the Westminster campus.)

The drama, one of Hellman's later works, was first produced in 1960 on Broadway with Jason Robards and Maureen Stapleton in the cast. It was that season's Drama Critics circle Award as best play of the year.

Director Fran Pruyn's cast for the TWW production includes Mary Bishop, Hayward Buchanan, Barb Gandy, Curley Green, Trudy Jorgensen, David Neiman and Debora Threedy.

The play examines a Louisiana family of two spinster sisters and their younger ne'er-do-well brother, who suddenly returns home with his childlike bride and a dangerous, new business scheme. The two sisters have spent their lives bailing their brother out of trouble and their obsession to get him back on their old terms stretches the family's tired and frayed relationships to the breaking point.

Hellman was one of the first major American women playwrights and her work spanned more than four decades. Her plays, including "The Children's Hour," "The Little Foxes" and "Another Part of the Forest," bring to light political and social ills, prejudices, and resulting conflicts wrought by (or inflicted on) her characters.

"Toys in the Attic" will open Thursday, March 21, in Walker Hall, where it will continue on Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through April 7. Admission is $9 on Thursdays and Sundays and $10 on Fridays and Saturdays, with discounts for students and senior citizens. For reservations, contact TheatreWorks West at 583-6520.