UF alumnus' play to open in February


Published: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 9:43 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 9:46 a.m.

Neal Utterback's the stuff Gator Nation commercials are made of.

He's written the great "American Western," a new play debuting next week at the University of Florida, his alma mater.

He's teamed up with his former college professor, David Shelton, who's retiring after 32 years at the end of the semester and is performing his last role as the spirit of John Cody Jones in the play.

“American Western” runs from Feb. 2 to 11 at the Constans Theatre and is the playwright's third play.

The plot is about Lt. Daniel Boone, who goes to a small Midwestern town to bury a dead soldier. The story unravels as the characters set out on a quest to “do the right thing,” even if it means harming others in the process. The set includes a lake filled with water and the cast includes a team of veteran actors, such as Hippodrome veteran Sara Morsey.

Utterback said he is not used to such an extravagant set. In New York, costs are so high that the set typically consists of “little black cubes." The humorous play revolves around themes of cowboy romanticism, betrayal and survival.

“There's a lot of humor in it. The strange conglomeration of characters like a transvestite Indian and a pregnant female sheriff,” Shelton said. “It has very contemporary issues that are going on right now.”

The play's director is Kevin Marshall. For him, the father of a soldier now in Iraq on his second term of duty, the play hits very close to home since it follows a soldier back from war.

“These people are survivors,” Marshall said of the characters.

But more than that, he said the way the characters deal with moral dilemmas, betrayal and the death of a loved one made "American Western" a play he wanted to direct.

From the very moment he started reading it, Marshall said he could not put it down.

“The characters just leapt off the page,” Marshall said. “I was struck by (Utterback's) audacity to take on all these different things.”

The performances on Feb. 3 and 4 will have “talkbacks” immediately following the show so that audience members have the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback to the actors, as well as to Utterback, who ultimately wants to take the show back to New York and is searching for investors.

“I'm excited to see how the audience responds,” Marshall said.

Tickets are available through the University Box Office. For more information, call (352) 392-1653 or visit the University Box Office Web site at www.union.ufl.edu/ubo.

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