Peace, protest and patriotism

The play tells the story of eight Minnesotans arrested for raiding draft offices.

Stephanie Dickrell

.”4 draft offices in state raided, 8 accused of attempted sabotage”

“FBI Nabs 8 in Minnesota Draft Office Break-ins”

“8 Arrests in Draft Raids Spur City Demonstration”

“Further protests threatened in 8 draft break-in arrests”

“Vigil, Fast to Support Protestors”

“Peace Crimes: The Minnesota 8 vs. The War”

WHEN: Feb. 21 – March 9, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday; 8 p.m., Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday
WHERE: Whiting Proscenium Theatre, Rarig Center, 330 21st Ave. S., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $10-$25, www.historytheatre.com/

These headlines from the early ’70s chronicle the story of eight Minnesotan men who attempted to break into draft offices in three Minnesota cities to destroy draft cards and spare young men from the horrors of what they saw as an unjust war and the high death rate that accompanied the Vietnam War.

Their story is being told in a new production, “Peace Crimes: The Minnesota 8 vs. The War.” Four years in the making, the play is a collaboration of the Minnesota History Theatre, the University Theatre Department and the Playwrights’ Center.

It tells the stories of the eight who got caught and were put on trial for sabotaging the war effort in 1970.

The production process started when one of the Minnesota 8, Frank Kroncke, presented the History Theatre with a manuscript of a memoir about the political actions he took in his youth against the Vietnam War.

Director Ron Peluso easily summed up what the play was about: peace, protest and patriotism, and the price you pay for resistance.

“This is a story this generation needs to understand,” he said, to motivate people to be politically active. With all of the similarities being drawn between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq, the timing of this play is important, he said.

The show is a unique way to share this recent history that is more effective than a lecture in a classroom, he said.

The production features five professional actors working alongside University theatre students, which is particularly fitting because the University was the epicenter for protest activities during the Vietnam War, and the backdrop for the story of the Minnesota eight – most of whom attended or lived near campus.

“They were burning draft cards in Coffman,” said Natalie Remus, a theatre and political science senior, who plays Diane. “It’s right here.”

The presence of some of the Minnesota eight throughout the process, from auditions to rehearsals, has also made the story more relevant. It provides a unique experience for the actors. Instead of relying on a character’s lines to understand their motivations, they can actually meet and discuss them with these men.

“Their passion and hearing their stories makes you really want to do the show,” said Jasmine Rush, a junior and a theater major. She is part of the ensemble that backs up the Minnesota eight.

Director Peluso was quick to remind the actors they were not to do impersonations of these characters, but rather to “focus on the passion of the characters within the play,” said professional actor Nicolas Freeman, who plays Frank Kroncke’s character in the production.

Most of all, Freeman, Peluso, Rush and senior Natalie Remus agree the play is relevant because it is about more than just telling eight men’s stories.

“We really hope the play spurs discussion,” about the current war, about politics and about resistance, Remus said.

The play has already done so for the actors, among themselves and with their family and friends.

For these actors and their audiences, history doesn’t stay in the past, and the lessons learned yesterday are still relevant today.