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Bethel presents graduate-written farce for Fall Festival

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Fall Festival at Bethel College this year will feature the comic play-writing talents of Falun native and Bethel graduate Aaron Christopher.

Suzanna Mathews, instructor in communication arts, will direct the farce Protection Program, on the Krehbiel Auditorium stage in the Fine Arts Center three times during Fall Festival weekend.

Performances are scheduled for Friday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 4, at 3:30 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 5, at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are: adults $10, non-Bethel students and adults age 65 and older $8, children (ages 3-12) $6.50. Bethel students and Kidron Bethel residents are free with ID. Tickets are on sale at Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center, call 316-284-5205, or in the Fine Arts Center ticket office before each performance.

Protection Program centers on Otto Pfaff, who apparently lacks the ability to pronounce his own alias, assigned to him after he was placed under federal protection. His handler, a U.S. marshal, drops Otto off at a small-town apartment, assures him he’ll be safe and then becomes completely unavailable. Otto, apparently never stable in the most placid of circumstances, descends into hysteria at the arrival of Cynthia, who has rented the same apartment in a lease mix-up. The two suddenly find themselves faking a rather surreal marriage to protect his identity and her honor in the midst of intrusive neighbors. The tension and pace build to the end, when Otto must face a life-or-death situation with only his interior decorating skills to protect him.

Christopher began writing plays in the early years of his college career and produced his first full-length work, Murder by Default, at Bethel in 1998. In 2004, he moved to Minneapolis to pursue a career as a playwright. In 2005, Christopher founded, and is currently president and resident playwright of, Urban Samurai Productions, a not-for-profit, independent theater company. Urban Samurai Productions has produced eight full productions, including five of Christopher’s original works: The Fam (2005), Quarter Life Crisis (2005), Livelihood (2006), Protection Program (2006) and American Apathy (2008).

“I chose this play because I wanted students to have the unique opportunity of working with a living and accessible playwright,” said Mathews. “It’s even better that he’s ‘one of us’ as a Bethel grad. Being able to communicate with Aaron during the production process, as well as the honor of having him in the audience during the performance, are two things that make this a special experience.

“Additionally, I thought students and audiences would enjoy the farcical nature of the play,” she continued. “Farce is a style of comedy that uses ridiculous characters – often stereotypes who exemplify the laughable extremes of human nature – and places them in improbable situations, setting into motion a series of absurd actions and frantic physical humor, until all is resolved for a happy ending. Protection Program fits the definition to the letter. It’s broad screwball comedy.”

While he enjoys writing lighthearted farce, Christopher’s main body of work falls into the genre of dark comedy that observes the human condition in the midst of a high tech/fast-paced culture. Critics have credited Christopher with the ability to make half the audience cringe while the other half laughs hysterically at the parody. For more about Urban Samurai Productions, visit www.urbansamurai.org.

Protection Program premiered in 2006 at the Old Arizona Theater in Minneapolis, directed by Matthew Greseth. Bethel alumnus Ian Swanson, also of Minneapolis, said about the play, “I laughed ’til I stopped. Then I started up again. By the end it was less of a laugh and more of a yell, really. Crying was involved.”

The cast list for the Bethel production of Protection Program is Clint Harris, sophomore from Manhattan, as Otto; Chris Yoder, high school senior from Valley Center, as the Marshal; Sara Volweider, freshman from Haven, as Cynthia; Joshua Powell, junior from Basehor, as Allan; Jonathan Nathan, senior from Moundridge, as Jerry; Hannah Massey, sophomore from Valley Center, as Phiona; Lisa Geist, sophomore from Scott City, as Barbara; Cedric Turner, freshman from Oaks, Okla., as Trevor; and Adam Larson, junior from Lena, Ill., as the Assassin.

Crew members are Ben Claassen, sophomore from Davis, Calif., stage manager; Andrea Kaufman, senior from Harrisburg, S.D., lighting design; and Eric Goering, freshman from McPherson, set construction.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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