Grant & Twain
By Elizabeth Diggs
Directed by Keven Myhre
Originally produced at Salt Lake Acting Company, Salt Lake City, UT.
February 5, 2014 through March 2, 2014
About the Premiere Production
In 1884, the two men forged an unlikely and unbreakable friendship. An exploration of these two intriguing, complex characters in a story of friendship, courage, betrayal and triumph. Grant & Twain reflects on General Ulysses S. Grant’s life following the Civil War and his presidency as he writes his famous memoirs with the guidance and critique of Mark Twain. The clever wit of Twain is paralleled by Grant’s logical sensibility in a capturing story featuring two iconic American heroes. Staying true to the historical accounts of Grant’s life, playwright Elizabeth Diggs acknowledges Grant’s complexity as a figure in American history—one whose reputation can be connected to his uncompromising military accomplishments, or his misunderstood political career. Twain’s wisdom that has made him so revered in American history is delicately applied to create a dichotomy of his creative voice and Grant’s careful reason.
Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC) is in an exceptional moment as a theatre. With continued audience growth and fiscal health, SLAC is thriving in renewed energy and artistic achievement. Encompassing where we are as a theatre at this time, we are thrilled to produce the world premiere of Grant & Twain by Elizabeth Diggs. The play honors SLAC’s roots of developing new work and contributing to the growth of American theatre.
In 2013, we presented Grant & Twain in our New Play Sounding Series. We loved the story: we felt invited to become part of the iconic characters’ world, and we were captivated by Elizabeth’s ability to personalize U.S. history. She illuminates poignant themes in her writing, honoring the individuals behind issues that often become generalizations.
Elizabeth’s work on Grant & Twain began over three years ago when she read “Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant.” She was immediately struck by the clarity, vigor and honesty of his voice. Grant is portrayed in plays and films in one of two ways -- ironically, as an accidental hero; or as a bloodthirsty butcher too callous, drunk and stupid to care about the terrible cost of winning the war. Elizabeth wondered why there was such a disparity between this popular image and the person who emerged from his Memoirs?
Military historian T. Harry Williams said, “He was a success because he was a complete general and a complete character. He was so complete that his countrymen have never been able to believe he was real.”
But he was real. And Elizabeth Diggs wanted to portray the real man, and not a cartoon.
Her research for the play became an obsession. The drama of the Civil War is the most important and excruciating crisis our country has ever faced. Ulysses Grant and Mark Twain made opposite choices at the beginning of the war—Grant knew immediately that he must fight to save the union and abolish slavery; Twain ran as far away as he could get and found his unique American voice.
20 years after the war, Grant and Twain were improbable friends. They were opposites in temperament—Grant was shy and modest, Twain loved the spotlight and gloried in fame. When Grant was bankrupted in a Madoff-style Ponzi swindle, Twain arrived with an audacious plan. He would publish Grant’s “Memoirs” and make it the biggest bestseller in American history. Grant had never written a book, and his confidence was shaken by the humiliation of the swindle. But he embraced the challenge and began to write. Halfway through the book, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and wrote in a race against death.
The play’s timeliness and relevance also urged for its production. The World Premiere will take place during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and the troubles of the characters are just as pertinent now as they were in the 19th century. Media deception, investment fraud and sinking loyalty remain pressing issues of today. Grant & Twain shows how these things occurred even to the most celebrated figures in history, stirring a reflection on the stories of the past that are told or forgotten.
We believe in Elizabeth Diggs’ unique voice, and we are dedicated to helping develop this play to its fullest potential in preparation for its premiere in our 2013/14 season. And when the curtain falls on the last performance, we will continue to work with Elizabeth to ensure the play has a long life beyond our stage. It will be an honor to present the world premiere of Grant & Twain, and to connect to our community through the themes it raises and the people whose lives they touch.
The play also fits beautifully within SLAC’s mission to work with playwrights throughout the developmental process of a play we believe in—as we believed in JT Rogers when we helped develop and world premiere several of his plays which have gone on to rich lives beyond SLAC, and as we champion the work of our Playwrights in Residence Kathleen Cahill and Julie Jensen. It is our mission to support these artists from the moment a fledgling idea forms to readings and fully realized productions at SLAC, in New York, London, and around the country.
The Edgerton Foundation’s support is crucial to the development of Grant & Twain. The extended rehearsal time is critical to allow the actors time to research and make a connection to ultimately embody these famous historical figures. As Grant navigates memory and history, the additional time provides the actors’ portrayals and the production design to really solidify transitions between the various periods of time revisited—highlighting the play’s storytelling strengths.
We are honored to have the Foundation’s vote of confidence and we will honor that confidence by producing Grant & Twain at the high caliber it deserves and by promoting its continued life at other theatres across the country. The Edgerton Foundation’s generosity truly contributes to Salt Lake Acting Company’s mission to produce new work and to nurture living playwrights. We thank the Edgerton Foundation for the tremendous impact their generosity has on our new plays’ furthered vitality.
Director: Keven Myhre
Set Design: Keven Myhre
Lighting Design: James M. Craig
Sound Design: Josh Martin
Costume Design: Kevin L. Alberts
Stage Manager—Janice Jenson
Dialect Coach—Adrianne Moore
Cast: Kathryn Atwood, Marshall Bell, Brien K. Jones, Morgan Lund, Ryon Sharette
Other funders: Salt Lake County’s Zoo, Arts and Parks Program
The Shubert Foundation
Utah Division of Arts & Museums
George S. & Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation
Emma Eccles Jones Foundation