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Theater: 'Exposed' spreads anti-nuke message

Published October 29, 2008 8:03 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A year ago, the world premiere of Plan B Theatre's "Exposed" dramatized for Salt Lake City audiences the human consequences of nuclear history. More specifically, the effects of 928 nuclear bombs detonated in the Nevada desert between 1951 and 1992.

On its first anniversary the play is extending its reach, thanks to a five-city Utah tour that kicks off in Ogden on Nov. 6.

"The reason I wrote it was to educate the public, to increase awareness about the extent of the fallout from nuclear testing and its relevance to today," said playwright Mary Dickson. "So to have it tour, it's a perfect, perfect opportunity to do that very thing."

A stark drama, "Exposed" tells the stories of "downwinders," people who lived downwind from the fallout of bombs detonated at the Nevada nuclear testing site. Dickson developed the work in conjunction with the Plan-B Theatre Company, which received a $20,000 grant to fund the tour from the Compton Foundation, a Northern California nonprofit dedicated to ending wars, as well as supporting social justice and the arts.

The tour features six actors - who originated the roles in Salt Lake City - giving staged readings, performances without elaborate costumes, scenery or lighting.

The tour will bring the play to new audiences, Dickson says, and she hopes it will spark more discussions about the impacts of the nuclear testing in Utah and across the nation.

The in-state tour, Plan-B's first, targets areas believed to have been hard hit by fallout, which some scientific experts claim can cause cancer, said the play's director, Jerry Rapier.

One element of the powerful play comes near the end, when cast members recount the names of the people they know who have died of cancer, including the playwright's sister, Ann.

The list began with 53 names, many of them people Dickson and her family grew up with, or people she met while fighting nuclear testing, while the cast and audience members have submitted an additional 100 names during the play's run.

That kind of response felt "unbelievable," Dickson said. "When you take something of that magnitude and personalize it, that's when it really strikes people. And that, to me, is the beauty of theater."

Kirt Bateman, who plays nine male characters in the play, including an activist/rancher named Preston Truman, said it has been an honor to be part of "Exposed." "I never really thought about the issue as something that affected me," said Bateman, who grew up in West Jordan.

"It hit home for me," Bateman said, after he learned of several family members who suffered from afflictions that may have been caused by exposure to radiation.

Portraying Truman, a gutsy activist and plain-spoken cowboy, is a joy, because his scenes offer comic relief in the show's serious subject matter, Bateman said.

The documentary form of the play is also unusual in that it features a character based on the playwright, who suffered thyroid cancer, and dramatizes her relationship with her sister, who died of lupus in 2001.

Dickson, who directs the creative services department at KUED, the University of Utah's public television station, originally began the work as an article, with plans for a book.

She settled on the work's title as she began shaping her story into a play. "In many ways, the title 'Exposed' is that we were all exposed to radiation, the government lies were exposed, and in a way I'm exposing myself by opening up my story and inviting the public to see it," Dickson said.