Regulars and Shorts

Theatre: Based on a True Story

By Elaine Jarvik

A time traveler’s journal.
by Elaine Jarvik

I’ve often thought that I could really get into yoga if the people in charge of yoga would come up with the Worrier Pose. Worrying is my forte, my go-to stance, my best worst thing.

So, while worrying one day a few years ago, this thought crossed my mind: Wouldn’t it be great if I could travel to the future and find out that everything I worry about (especially about the people I’m related to) didn’t come to pass? Then I could stop worrying and be happy all the time! Of course, pretty soon it occurred to me that I might find out something bad. Also, there’s no such thing as time travel.

Anyway, this was one of the things that sent me off on a different journey: writing a play in which I could explore doubt, comfort, lies, faith and the passage of time. All the things I wonder about and worry about, condensed to 90 minutes. The play is called Based On A True Story.

When fellow playwright Debora Threedy heard a reading of a first draft of the play nearly two years ago, she said, “You had fun writing this play, didn’t you?” She was right. I loved creating this world. I loved coming up with my own laws of physics, and figuring out how the people I invented would react to them.

Although, wait. I also repeatedly wanted to scream in frustration, because I would send scenes of the play to my son and he would tell me that my time travel logic was illogical. And then I’d have to figure it out all over again. And also there was the matter of what to do about the character named Chuck.

The main character in Based On A True Story is Megan Nickels, who one afternoon impulsively rents a time machine in Salt Lake City. Her half-baked goal is to visit the near past (she’s afraid to go too far away, plus she has something she wants to prove to her husband). But then things go spectacularly wrong. Pretty soon she finds herself at a Time Refugee Shelter, a very long way from home. At the shelter, Megan meets Chuck, who has a story even more troubling than her own.

At its heart, Based On A True Story is about the stories we tell ourselves so we’ll worry less—stories sometimes based on the truth but embellished and tidied up and repurposed. The play is basically a skeptic’s tale.

I’m excited to see this play come to life under the imaginative direction of Cheryl Cluff, who will also be the sound designer. And I’m so lucky to have four superb actors: Nell Gwynn as Megan; Mark Fossen as her husband Hendrix; Jason Bowcutt as Chuck; and Colleen Baum as everybody else. I’m looking forward to what set designer Thomas George, costume designer Philip Lowe, lighting designer Jesse Portillo and props designer Arika Schockmel will do to create the Past-Future Highway and beyond.

Based On A True Story was developed through The Lab at Plan-B Theatre, under the direction of Jerry Rapier. I hope you will come see the play. And I will try not to worry that you won’t. In fact, as we go to press with this story the original run of BASED ON A TRUE STORY completely sold out before rehearsal even began. Two performances have been added: Wednesday, March 2 at 8pm and Sunday, March 6 at 5:30pm.

Elaine Jarvik premiered her play Marry Christmas at Plan-B Theatre last season. Her latest, “Based On A True Story, receives its world premiere February 25-March 6 at Plan-B as part of the company’s 25th anniversary season. Visit for tickets and information.

This article was originally published on January 30, 2016.