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UW-RF Play Brings Pioneer Experience to Life

October 2, 1998

The story of the Midwest's early settles will come to life in the UW-River Falls production of "O Pioneers!", a dramatic musical adaptation of Willa Cather's stirring novel.

Performances will take place Oct. 22-24, 28-30 at 8 p.m. in the Blanche Davis Theatre at the Kleinpell Fine Arts Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Staged by the theater and music departments, the play tells the story of the Bergson family, 19th century Swedish immigrants who try to make a home in the vast American heartland.

Primary responsibility for the survival of the family falls on the shoulders of young Alexandra, who uses both new and traditional skills in her efforts to cultivate the land. How she succeeds in transforming the landscape and creating a fertile farm where there was once nothing but wild grasses is the subject of this play.

The play is very true to Cather's novel, describing the immigrant's experiences of romantic love, tragic death, and transcendent forgiveness. Above all, this play glorifies the land while reminding us of the smallness of our personal sorrows and our continued dependence on the natural world.

Professor Margaret Swanson, who directs the play, says she was drawn to it because it speaks to the tenacity of the human spirit. "It is hard for us to imagine," she says, "the terror that the vast unsettled prairie must have evoked in those early settlers. Certainly there was nothing like it in the European countries they had left behind. It must have been all they could do not to turn tail and run in the face of such an awesome place."

Music director Grace Cajiuat is intimately familiar with the American prairie, having gone to college in South Dakota. The inspirational music that is incorporated in this production fully evokes the power of the landscape. Ken Stofferahn, who designs the sets, also grew up in South Dakota and brings his own experience of the prairie to his work on this production. His simple set will catch the stark beauty of the desolate countryside.

This play was selected to celebrate Wisconsin's pioneer heritage in this Sesquicentennial year. Its characters are Norwegian, Swedish, German, Czechoslovakian, and French-an array of people similar to Wisconsin's and Minnesota's 19th Century settlers. The play represents the cultural diversity among this assortment of Europeans. "This production reminds us," Swanson says, "that America is-and has always been-a nation of immigrants."

For tickets or information, call 715/425-3114 or 800/228-5423.

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