"The Seating of Senator Smoot," a historical drama at Brigham Young University, offers some interesting insight into the life of one-time Provo resident and U.S. Sen. Reed Smoot. The play is a great way for audiences to be entertained and learn a little about Utah's history in the process.
The plot centers around congressional hearings conducted early in this century regarding the election of Reed Smoot, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the U.S. Senate.Sen. Fred Dubois of Idaho challenged the election, calling attention to the question of whether Smoot could distance himself from the church enough to make his own decisions or whether his votes would be controlled by church authorities.
A major issue was polygamy, even though Smoot was not a poly-gamist himself. Dubois argued that the LDS Church's teachings were offensive to family values.
Playwright Eric Samuelsen and director Bob Nelson have produced a fine theatrical work which re-creates some of the highlights of these hearings and explores the issues raised during them. "The Seating of Senator Smoot" is well-researched and offers many details of the events while also providing some good dramatic moments. It is interesting to watch the mingling of church and politics and how each character deals with the various issues and questions that are raised.
One of the most impressive aspects of this production is the way it smoothly and quickly flows from one scene to the next. A lot of information is packed into the drama; a chorus of players takes on various roles with simple costume additions and also announces new scenes so the audience can keep up. Rings of a cow bell and short blasts on whistles aid the audience by drawing attention to a player just before he or she announces more helpful information.
The set changes are handled just as smoothly, with a few platforms and chairs quickly moved around to create everything from a bed to the table where senators question their witnesses.
Actual headlines and newspaper stories published at the time of the hearings are projected onto a screen behind the stage. This was an interesting element because it emphasized that the events in the play actually happened while also giving the audience more information to help them understand the story.
The characterization of Fred Dubois and his wife Edna, played by Paul DeWitt and Alisha Watts, is interesting, as they both believe what they are doing to remove Smoot from office is right and good. Edna declares at one point that Fred stands for everything that is good and decent in the United States. Watts is excellent in the role of a strong wife who is deeply involved in her husband's political career.
The actors portraying the senators who conduct the hearings are all good; David C. Simmons portrays a wonderfully annoying and sly Sen. Julius C. Burrows while Lincoln Hoppe is confident and strong in his role as Sen. Albert J. Beveridge. The chorus in this play also deserves mention for the way the members keep the action going and meet the demands this play makes of them.
Although one leaves this play with a great admiration for the struggles of Smoot through his ordeal, it would have been nice to hear from Smoot a little more through the play. The other senators' characters seem a little more fleshed out; it would be enlightening to learn more about Smoot's emotions during his experience.
But overall, this is an excellent production that definitely deserves a larger audience. Celebrate the centennial of Utah by attending "The Seating of Senator Smoot."