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'The Crucible': Actors return after nearly 50 years to see play

From left standing, former actor Ozzie Tollefson and former director Bill Marchand of the play "The Crucible" pose with present actor Jon Mansk, seated at left, and director Patrick Carriere at a reception after a performance last weekend. Pioneer Photo/Pat Rall

The theater department of Bemidji State University welcomed some original players of "The Crucible" to last Saturday's performance of the current production now on the main stage of Bangsberg Fine Arts Center.

The original cast of "The Crucible" performed in Room 200 of Deputy Hall in March 1960 was under the direction of Bill Marchand, who was at Bemidji State Teachers College in an interim position. Marchand was invited by his brother, retired BSU professor Louie Marchand of the theater department, to try his hand at directing because he was still weighing his academic options. Marchand attained his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and directed the play a second time during his teaching career.

"I'm going to the play again because I saw it years ago in Deputy Hall because that was where plays were produced back then," said Judy Lee.

Lee was only one of a number of returnees Saturday night who remembered the original production and wanted to see what changes happened in the interim.

A few of the returning actors were amazed at Bangsberg Fine Arts Center and the fine performance spaces. Paul Rynders, who played Rev. Parris in the 1960 production, drove 10 hours from Madison, Wis. Mark Paulson of Solway, who played Giles Corey, brought his original script with him.

Everett Marshall from Thief River Falls is a retired English teacher and taught "The Crucible" for 14 years to his classes. Marshall played Rev. Hale.

"Our play was as good as the Guthrie," he said. "It's been my favorite play for years."

Jim Rude of Deerwood, said he "came to see if my character (Judge Danforth) is still as biased and prejudiced as 50 years ago."

The original John Proctor, Ozzie Tollefson, came from Pennsylvania equipped with video camera. He said he plans to make a DVD of the evening for his old college friends and asked for digital photos from all those clicking away during the evenings activities. BSU theater department hosted a reception after the performance for the returning actors, the present cast and audience members. Past and present players posed for photos with each other and in group pictures. Each returning actor was given a poster autographed by the current cast.

Director of the current production Patrick Carriere said the cast was motivated and honored by the presence of the old cast. "They dedicated their performance to them."

Mallory McKay, an elementary education major, captures the essence of her character, Abigail Williams, the ring leader of the Puritan girls who exerts her power by guile and implied threats.

"I enjoy playing this character because she has so many layers; she wants to believe her lies so much that she finally does believe them," McKay said.

Ceara Dowell, a theater major, plays Rebecca Nurse, a respected mother, grandmother and mid-wife who is unable to defend herself from accusations even with her reputation for wisdom and charity throughout the community of Salem, Mass.

"It is great to play such an admirable woman; the more I learn about her the more honored I am to play the part," Dowell said.

At the end of the evening, the returning group looked at their yearbook pictures and scenes from the production on display in the Ramsey Gallery on the first floor of Bangsberg Hall. They joked at how young they looked back then and what a good experience they had at BSTC.

"The Crucible" will begin at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Oct. 30 and 31, and at 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 1, on the main stage of Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex, 14th Street and Birchmont Drive. Tickets are on sale from 1-4:30 p.m. weekdays in Room 101, Bangsberg, and at the door the day of performance. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for seniors and students. BSU students are admitted free with a valid ID. This production is suitable for high school age and above.