Peace and War in the Heartland


Theater review: 'Peace Crimes' tries a little too much
Earnest, well-meaning and ambitious, in the end it has more breadth than depth, more image than insight.

By LISA BROCK, Special to the Star Tribune
Last update: February 24, 2008 - 11:09 PM

From the grainy photographs of war protest signs and campus demonstrations to the tie-dye T-shirts and bell-bottom jeans, the opening moments of "Peace Crimes: The Minnesota Eight vs. The War" instantly transport the audience in time to the waning years of the 1960s. The death toll in Vietnam is mounting, the anti-war movement is heating up and hundreds of thousands of young men in America face the prospect of a draft card in the mail.

Rarig Center, on the West Bank campus, is an inspired venue for this collaborative co-production by the Minnesota History Theatre and the University of Minnesota's Theater Department of Doris Baizley's play. Many of the Minnesota Eight were students, and the campus was a hotbed of activism during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The play provides a glimpse into a little-explored facet of our local history, a history made all the more compelling in the context of the current war in Iraq.

In 1970, a group of eight young Minnesotans took their anti-war sentiments to a higher level by raiding a series of Selective Service offices around the state, destroying draft records and files. They were captured by the FBI and stood trial. Seven of them went to prison, serving between 14 and 20 months.

Baizley's play provides a kaleidoscope of opinions on the actions and beliefs of the Minnesota Eight. There's the mother who supports her son's anti- war stance but wants him to seek a plea bargain rather than go to prison. There's the procession of witnesses testifying on their behalf. At the other end of the spectrum, there's the Selective Service office worker who feels only shock and violation at the destruction.

Baizley makes a valiant attempt to encompass the complexity of the era she describes, but her efforts often diffuse the focus of the play. Scenes that try to incorporate the Black Panther movement and women's rights issues feel contrived and fail to delve beneath the level of mere symbols like a clenched fist and bra-burning. Despite some strong performances, including John Riedlinger as a wild-eyed Abbie-Hoffmanesque activist and

Joe Leary as a man with a gently ironic world view and welcome sense of humor, the characters are too often simply deadly serious mouthpieces for their points of view, their beliefs reduced to didactic slogans.

While this earnest, well-meaning and ambitious production is a good jumping-off point for a reevaluation of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and '70s and its implications today, "War Crimes" offers more breadth than depth, more image than insight.

Lisa Brock is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

Who: Written by Doris Baizley.
Directed by Ron Peluso.
Co-produced by Minnesota History Theatre and University of Minnesota Theater Department.
Where: Rarig Center, 330 21st Av. S., Minneapolis.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. Through March 9.
Tickets: $25 to $29. University faculty and students, $10 to $12. 651-292-4323.



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