20 years ago, Farewell to Eden premiered at Utah Valley University and went on to win national awards through the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, kickstarting an eventful literary journey for its playwright Mahonri Stewart. Prospero Arts and Media is bringing back the play to once again draw Utah audiences to this powerful play.
Farewell to Eden tells the story of Georgiana Highett, a high born woman of intelligence, incisive wit, and influence, a proto feminist in the Victorian age of England. Yet, she must encounter her own vulnerabilities when two men enter her life, one a childhood friend, the other a proverbial snake in the Highetts’ British garden. This causes a series of events that cause revelations which shake Georgiana’s world to its very foundations.
Stewart was only in his first year of college when James Arrington, the then department chair of Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University) assigned his Introduction to Theater class to write a 10 minute play. Stewart had already begun on the script that became Farewell to Eden, so he decided to write a scene that would become one of its climactic scenes. When it was performed in class, Arrington slapped his desk and declared, “We have a playwright in our midst!”
Arrington went on to commission Farewell to Eden, which was produced by the college’s theater department. Judges from the Kennedy Center American Theater Festival were invited to a performance and they were delighted with it. They chose the play to perform and compete in the regional festival in California and then invited Stewart to the national festival in Washington D.C. to receive one of their National Selection Team Fellowship Awards and Second Place for their National Playwriting Award.
“Farewell to Edenwas an event that changed the whole trajectory of my life,” Stewart said. “I changed my major to theater because of the scholarship the college gave me, I focused on my playwriting instead of novels, UVSC produced a second play of mine (Legends of Sleepy Hollow) where I met my wife… my teaching career, my marriage, my children, getting into Arizona State University’s MFA program in playwriting and screenwriting… so many major threads of my current identity… Farewell to Eden started it all. I am so grateful for what James, the cast, the crew, and UVU all gave me. This production has allowed us to return a bit to that enchanted time and relive some of those sweet emotions and experiences.”
Since then, Stewart has had two dozen more of his plays produced, won more playwriting awards, and he has made progress in his screenwriting ambitions, placing as a finalist in prominent, international screenwriting competitions and film festivals, as well as having his screenplays optioned.
Arrington is also enchanted by the chance to return to the show with the added maturity and hindsight that now accompanies the production, “20 year anniversaries of anything are great fun, catching up, sharing lives, and memories, but Mahonri’s dream was to bring the whole original cast together. There was some magic in the air and, by George, we’re remounting Farewell to Eden with 80% of the original cast! It’s such a gift, it’s spectacular! It’s the same words and plot, but we’re all improved – twenty years
older, but smarter, and even better!”
Not only is Arrington back to direct this anniversary production, but many of UVSC’s cast members have returned to the roles that they originated, including leading lady Margie Johnson who portrayed Georgiana Highett.
“To be a part of Farewell to Eden 20 years after its debut is a unique and rewarding experience,” said Johnson. “As a 20-something year old performing the role of Georgiana, I saw her as a strong, intelligent woman whose pride got in the way of her happiness. Now, after 20 years of my own life experience, I understand that Georgiana was much more than a proud heart. In addition to her strength, she is full of insecurities. Because she does not fit the mold of a typical 19th century English lady, she struggles to find her place in the world. She uses her intellect as a guise to hide her insecurities, but is full of vulnerability. As old and new acquaintances come into her life, they bring with them new strength and much skepticism. Ultimately, a dark side is unleashed in Georgiana which eventually guides her towards a path of enlightenment and frees her from the oppression of a proud heart. I am honored to bring a new maturity to the role of this beautifully written character, and blessed to be on stage with a devoted and talented cast.”
The play will perform in two locations in Utah. Poetically, the play will return to Utah Valley University in Orem, at the university’s Ragan Theater in their Student Center on Saturday, October 14 at 3 pm and 7pm. It will also have several performances at DaVinci Academy of Science and the Arts, 2033 Grant Avenue, Ogden, UT 84401 on Friday, October 6 at 7pm; Saturday, October 7th at 3 pm and 7pm; and Saturday October 21st at 7 pm.
Tickets are $20 for general audiences; $18 for students, teachers, educators, and military (with the code FTEDISCOUNT for the Ogden performances at checkout); or patrons can buy 2 tickets for $30 with the code FTE2FOR30.Tickets can be purchased at Campus Connection ( https://www.uvu.edu/campusconnection/ and 801-863-8797) for the UVU performances and at https://www.farewelltoeden.com/tickets for the Ogden performances. Further information about the play, tickets, its cast, and crew can be found on its website www.farewelltoeden.com.
If any media outlets wish to further interview members of the cast or crew, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Prospero Arts, or can reach out directly to Mahonri Stewart at (801) 822-6504, who can connect you with various members of the production team and cast.
Photo Credit: Emily Pearl Photography.