Weber State University theater professor Tracy Callahan of Ogden is directing a new play, "Course 86B in the Catalogue."
"I love working here at Weber State with my students, but it's also fun to get out in the community and work on a world-premiere play," said Callahan. She has been at Weber State for 15 years and is also head of the university's acting and directing program.
The production opens Wednesday, April 11, at the Salt Lake Acting Company. It continues through May 6.
The play, written by Kathleen Cahill of Salt Lake City, is a comedy about Stevie Stuart, a Harvard-educated paleontologist who is on the run from a philandering husband. She is hired to teach at an obscure community college in the desert. Her class, "The History of Life on Earth - Course 86B" brings out the past to collide with the present.
Cahill said she came up with the idea for the script after a trip to Southern Utah, where she saw dinosaur tracks and pictographs.
"It is exciting, there is just so much ancient life in Utah," she said. "There is something very inspiring about being in the state."
Cahill has written countless plays and has a background and degree in musical theater. Weber State is planning to do a play of Cahill's this fall. Titled "Charm," it's a comedy about great American thinkers in the 1840s.
In "86B," Stevie Stuart makes a discovery while out hiking: She finds a 500-million-year-old fossil that represents a vanished, unique life form. She also finds ancient, petrified bones; teeth of an early hominid; and freshly painted ancient cave paintings.
One of Cahill's favorite parts of the play is that one of the students has a boyfriend who is a "hominid" -- which is halfway between a human and an ape. His name is Sterling.
"It's really funny," Cahill said, adding there is a lot of "evolutionary comedy."
Actress Colleen Baum of Salt Lake City, who plays Stevie Stuart in the play, has been acting in SLAC productions for 10 years. She said she respects Stevie Stuart's strong personality and believes she has a lot in common with her character, especially in that she is a "fossil fanatic" and loves paleontology.
"I understand Stevie so much," Baum said. "She struggles and is a fantastic character who finds joy and some resolve in her life. It's quite a lovely piece."
Stevie Stuart is goofy, but smart, while also being enthused about life, according to Baum.
"She tries hard," she said. "When she falls down, she picks herself up and just keeps on going -- and she does it with humor."
On a journey
Much of the play is set in what looks like a Southern Utah desert. Various scenes bring in elements to create the atmosphere the play wishes to convey. For example, in the classroom scene, the students sit on rocks, but there is also a lectern, a door, a TV set and a painting easel.
"We're sort of asking the audience to go on this journey with us to all these different places," Callahan said. "With lights and music, we are defining space -- as opposed to different sets coming out. We are just using one unit set."
Callahan says it has been a bonus to have the playwright, Cahill, on set during rehearsals. They have had the opportunity to gain input from her and rewrite or add scenes as needed.
"You wouldn't necessarily have that if you were just working off of a script," she said.
Working with director Callahan has been an excellent experience, Baum said.
"Tracy doesn't ever make us feel like we are doing it wrong," Baum said. "She helps us understand there are other ways we can try. She lets us experiment. I really like directors who let us experiment, and she does that a lot."