Bismarck State College Theatre presents new play about Germans from Russia

November 4, 2005

Sidney J. Lee Auditorium, Bismarck State College Bismarck, North Dakota

Bismarck State College Theatre explores the strength of family in the North Dakota premiere of "Handing Down the Names" Nov. 9-13 in Sidney J. Lee Auditorium. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

In a montage of stories, playwright Steven Dietz honors his family's enduring courage and uncommon choice to leave their German homeland and travel to Russia to secure a better future for their children. They and other immigrants became known collectively as the Germans from Russia, a peasant people whose farming skills enriched the barren steppes for 150 years until oppression brought many to America in the early 1900s.

Dietz uses family history, documented historical facts and events, and imagination to create a seven-generation mosaic of the "Dorn" family from 1766 to 1949. The play imparts the loss and pain of separation as circumstances split family apart with some settling in America and others forced to return or stay in Russia during the turbulent early 20th century.

"This is about heritage; what it meant then, and how it has changed over time," says director Dan Rogers, associate professor of speech and theater.

Audiences will find a history lesson in the exodus launched when Catherine the Great of Russia, a monarch of German heritage, issued a manifesto inviting her kinsmen to settle land annexed in a war.

The play opens in Germany with Ruth, a young woman whose husband was forced into military service and dies. She is pregnant, and, according to custom, her husband's younger brother offers marriage to hand down the name. They join others in the yearlong trip on the Volga River to a promised land of treeless prairie and hardship.

"But within 100 years, these people turned the region into the breadbasket of Russia and fed the entire country," Rogers says.

The 17-member ensemble cast performs multiple roles. Players are Ian Knodel, Andrea Ficek, Karissa Pudwill, Sean Marshall, and Conrad Bauer, all of Bismarck; Kelsey Fredricks, Charlie Barber, and Matt Jacobson-Heck, Mandan; Amber Wolfe, Hazen; Danielle Stadick, Beulah; Chantal Withe, Wilton; Jordan Axtman, Harvey; Toby Lund, Selfridge; Alexander Duppong, Glen Ullin; Kayla Sanford, Watford City; Courtney Olson, Sidney, Mont.; and Laura Struckman, Savage, Mont. Between 80 to 90 percent of the cast happens to have German-Russian heritage, Rogers says.

Craig Moxon, technical theater instructor, provides set and lighting design. Students in lead production positions are Farren Gunderson, assistant director, Mandan; and Jessica Hafen, assistant technical director, Shawnee, Kan.

The Germans from Russia Heritage Society will provide informational displays at the BSC auditorium. Reserved seat tickets are $5 and can be purchased weekdays until 4 p.m. at the box office beginning Oct. 31.

Note: Do a web search for playright Steven Dietz and of the play, "Handing Down the Names" for interesting website pages of the performance of this play at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah in the spring of 2005 and at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, in April of 2005.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller