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Filed under Showcase

The first-time crime

Jennifer Hietpas

The scene opens in a Philadelphia prison, where a man is to be hanged for committing murder. A crowd has gathered to watch and is swelling with anticipation. But before the execution can be carried out, a detective speaks from amidst the crowd.

UW-Eau Claire students will be presented with a rare opportunity. “The Holmes-Pitezel Case” is a faculty-written and student-performed play. This is the first time this has ever been done on stage, Theatre Professor and Director Terry Allen said.


The Holmes-Pitezel Case
Time:
7:30 p.m.
Date: Today through Saturday and Monday through Oct. 23
Place: Riverside Theatre, Haas Fine Arts Center
Cost: $5 for students, $6 for faculty and youth, $9 for adults

The play is based on the true story of events that occurred late in the 19th century.

Detective Frank Geyer, played by senior Paul Bleier, tells how he unraveled the murder mystery story that was coined as the trial of the century.

The most interesting part of doing this play is that they aren’t just performing it, they are creating it because it has never been done before, Bleier said.

Today this story is relatively unknown, but the events the play recalls were, at the time, prominent in the public eye.

Allen not only directs the play, but also wrote it.

“Doing a play for the first time offers unique challenges when compared with classic plays, where there is a model to follow,” Allen said.

There is no previous expectation about how the characters should act, so they can have some fun making the roles they play their own, he said.

Since Allen is both the writer and director, the actors can see his vision coming to life through their acting.

“If I had to use one word (to describe Allen) it would be brilliant,” said junior Mark Saienga, who plays H.H. Holmes.

Bleier said working with Allen is interesting because he has a vision and he paints pictures with the words in the script.

“I think it’s really cool that a professor here wrote it,” said senior Ashley Smith, who plays Alice Pitzel.

Senior Dan Largent has three roles in the play. “When we found out it was written by him, we gained a lot of respect for him,” he said.

Upon reminiscing about the first time she read the script, senior Leahkim Gannett said she was so scared and riveted by the script she had to pick up a Calvin and Hobbes book before she could comfortably go to sleep that night.

The actors have a different pair of shoes to fill in the first stage production. Saienga said he had fun acting in a situation where there is no expectation to meet because no one has played the part before.

Bleier would recommend seeing the play because of the fact that it is true to life, based on a true story, and because of how big the Holmes-Pitezel Case was historically, he said.

Saienga recommends the play because it was written by a faculty member and because it is the first-ever performance of this play.

He said the script is seamless. The audience will not be confused or left with questions, yet it keeps them on their toes.

Saienga warns not to be put off by the historical setting because the audience will still be able to relate to the characters since it is based on real events.

“It’s an interesting piece of history that most wouldn’t know about … I didn’t,” Largent said.

Another aspect that makes this play unique is that it may put Eau Claire on the map, Smith said. “If a play company or Broadway ever buys this, we’ll be on the original cast list.”

Largent said what makes this play worth going to is to see what can come out of Eau Claire.

“Where else are you going to see skeletons suspended over the audience and skeletons dancing in the same show?” Gannett said.

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