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BANNED-tastic

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The appeal of "Iron (Fill-in-the-Blank)" events comes largely from the same place as the appeal of improvisational comedy. Maybe the creative results, born from a few basic parameters and a ridiculously short amount of preparation time, aren't spectacular, but we cut them plenty of "how did they do that?" slack because the fact that someone manages to produce anything that doesn't completely suck is astonishing enough.

Reduced expectations are an inevitable part of something like Plan-B Theatre Company's And the Banned SLAMMED On, which this year combined the company's annual look at censored artworks with its annual 24-hour play-creation marathon. And that makes it all the more extraordinary when some of the results aren't merely competent, but borderline brilliant.

This year's five entries found local playwrights creating 10-minute works based on title, and a Utah-oriented news item from the past year with a civil-liberties angle. Co-hosts Bill Allred and Doug Fabrizio laid the foundation for the evening with a look back at the year, while former ABC-4 newsman Terry Wood provided an emotional recounting of his controversial firing, related to his on-air opposition to the "Divine Strake" weapons-testing program.

But the plays themselves were the thing, and all of them provided at least something worth seeing. Debora Threedy's "Black & White" turned the controversy over the "Obama Monkey" sock puppet into a clever (though slightly didactic) "karma tribunal" in which three otherworldly beings (Teri Cowan, Teresa Sanderson and Jason Tatom) debated whether the puppet's maligned creators were victims or antagonists. "Pomp & Circumstance," by Jennifer Nii, took a more oblique angle in commenting on the "missionary men" calendar that got a BYU student expelled, casting Colleen Baum as a hard-nosed cop threatening two kids (Carleton Bluford and April Fossen) for daring to dance in her town. Kathleen Cahill's "Smoke Signals" turned the private-club smoking ban into a devil's bargain between a health activist (Stephanie Howell) and two moral crusaders (Mark Fossen and Jayne Luke). And "Sticks & Stones" provided the evening's most straightforward drama, about the impact of a teen girl's (Rhiannon Ross) pregnancy on her family.

Then came the final comedic bombshell of the evening: Matthew Ivan Bennett's "Terms of Use," inspired by Facebook's refusal to allow a Utah woman's posting of a breast-feeding photo. Like Threedy, Bennett opted to set his tale out of this world, with a newly-created human woman (Anita Booher) learning some odd facts about her coming existence from two pre-existence technicians (David Spencer and Kirt Bateman). And in a Plan-B season that Bennett almost single-handedly created, it's the best piece of work yet. Smartly scripted, brilliantly acted by all three cast members and given spot-on direction by Christy Summerhays, it was one of the most gaspingly funny pieces of theater local stages have seen in years. It's a shame only a handful of one-night-only audience members could get a chance to experience it. The only kind of censorship keeping this piece of art from the world is the self-censorship of its format. How did they do that?