J.J. Strang Writer's Society
Issue No. 16
April 1, 2005
From Bill Olson wolsonitol.com
Bill Cashman tells us that Beaver Island’s highly-vaunted St. Pat's Day celebration had to be moved inside because of the blizzard.
Following is Bill’s review of Anne-Marie's play: The King and his Wives
“Beaver Island's King Strang was the protagonist in a play that had 8 sold-out performances in Traverse City's Old Town Playhouse in February, Anne-Marie Oomen's Wives of an American King. Briefly sketching the historic facts of James Jesse Strang's abbreviated life, the play was more interested in depicting the inevitable tensions that had to have developed in the Beaver Island ruler's cozy expanded family. Responding to the familiar criticism that everyone knows what Strang did but no one knows what it means, it did a fine job of making these distant and strange characters come to life so the 80 audience members sitting in the OTP's lower-level theater could get past the layers of cliché normally clouding these events and see and judge for themselves.
“Many Strang commentators are squeamish about accusing him of being a charlatan, since they don't know for sure that he forged Joseph Smith's signature or fabricated the heavenly plates. This play also did not accuse him, but made that a moot point by taking his criminality for granted-but depicting him as never allowing him to admit this, not even to himself. Instead it showed him using his charismatic arguing skill to convince doubting followers that the truth was not apparent to their eyes. OTP president Phil Murphy played Strang to perfection, expressing the nuances of his behavior with his entire being and gradually expanding the power of his delivery to increase the dramatic intensity. The audience reacted as if 150 years had been swept away and they could see that this almost-mythical personage was not just a charlatan but someone obsessed with following his early vision to its conclusion, wherever that led.
“The five able actresses playing Strang's wives did double duty, also donning trousers and hats to play various men as the two-hour performance shifted from scene to scene. During these shifts one of them, the vampish Bonnie Diegh, sometimes appeared as a kind of narrator, speaking to the audience to suggest differing interpretations, usually through facial expression that belied the words. At the onset Eliza alone appears (played as a romantic intellectual by Michelle Perez), working on a forge in a confused attempt to fashion brass; this scene is repeated, with a gradually dawning realization: she is making a brass plate of her own, to counter what Strang claims has been prophesized by the plates he found.
“In this reading of these events, first wife Mary reveals her devastation at learning of Strang's decision to take another-which Strang insists is not his will, but God's-warning Elvira that Strang is not who she thinks. This scene is paralleled by Elvira's hurt and dismay when Strang takes the spinster Betsy as his third bedmate. Teenage fourth wife Sarah admits she's joined the menage for all the fine trappings accompanying his position of power.
“Highly-respected director Jeanette Mason was able to elevate this complex drama (even the occasionally superfluous moving of the furniture was choreographed sufficiently to become a dramatic component) into a well-oiled machine that hummed along with multiple tensions. The attention to detail was superb, with cues at several levels adding to the cumulative force. Author Oomen, the head of Interlochen's creative writing program, attended every rehearsal, making adjustments to the script-on which she'd already spent five years. Changes continued to be made through the early presentations; a challenge to the actors, but Oomen is dedicated to drawing ever closer to the elusive truth, to establishing the proper blend of philosophy, power hunger, and lust. The various aspects of this fine performance worked together to give everyone present an improved understanding of this all-too-human tragedy.”
The tentative agenda for our Second Annual Strang Writers Conference coming up on the third weekend of June (17th~19th):
1. Mission Statement
2. Group organization - officers, dues etc.
3. Play. Bill Cashman proposes that we pass out copies of Anne-Marie's script and give it the same kind of treatment that we gave John's play last year, and then collect our group comments and pass them on to the Emerald Isle Repertory Theater.
4. Strang book discussion
5. 2006 Conference plans (See Vickie’s ideas below) The BIHS is willing to commit itself to partnering to produce John Baldwin's play (or a version thereof) for the 150th-anniversary summer of 2006; so some time should be set aside for discussing these arrangements with the EIRT (who are about to receive a first script.)
6.Other? (suggestions welcome)
Bill suggests that we make the Emerald Isle Hotel's conference room our base (or we could set up in the Brothers' Place, the funky older retreat on the edge of town) The Museums will have an Open House that Saturday and be open again on Sunday. We should set aside an hour on Saturday for this celebration of the new season. We could also meet inside the Protar Home, but there are no seats or lights.
Bill also mentions that, "... the Municipal Marina just underwent a million-dollar facelift, and will be holding its Open House during our conference, so I suggest we plan to march down there, sample their hors d'ouevres, and insist they keep the noise down once we leave."
Vickie Speek writes to say, “I had both of my knee joints replaced in November and thought I was doing well, but scar tissue developed under the knees and I had to have surgery again the end of December to remove the scar tissue. Then, it was back to physical therapy for the next two months. I had no idea the recuperation time would be long and that I would have such a hard time sitting in a chair. Oh well, everyday is a little better and, hopefully I will soon be back to normal (even better).
“I figure we would make the official plans for the 2006 Conference on Beaver Island when we meet together on BI in June. I do have friends who will be attending the annual Mormon History Association (MHA) Conference in May, and they said they would pass out flyers. I'm going to write a blurb about the conference to send to the MHA newsletter and the John Whitmer Historical Association newsletter.
“The conference is scheduled for June 15-18, 2006 on Beaver Island, the 150th anniversary of Strang's death. I thought we could start the conference with a keynote speaker on Thursday night, have sessions on Friday during the day, have a play or another speaker on Friday night, sessions on Saturday morning and a tour of the island on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday we can go to church with the residents of Beaver Island and leave on the Sunday morning ferry.
“If any of you know of conferences or gatherings in the Great Lakes area, let me know and we can make up a flyer to distribute, so see if we can announce the conference in their newsletters.
“Oh, by the way. Signature Books has tentatively scheduled my book for release this coming November.”
On February 22nd John Baldwin wrote: “I'd like to see on the agenda room for a committee on play production or reenactment and selected readings. I'd like to head that committee. I also think there ought to be a committee for gifts and grants (financial committee).
“I saw Anne-Marie Ooman's play in Traverse City last Sat. It was excellent and with six people in the cast quite manageable as to production.”