Peace, protest and patriotism
The play tells the story of eight Minnesotans arrested for raiding
By Stephanie Dickrell
February 21, 2008
"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"
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
"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.
Still no peace
A new collaboration between History Theatre and the University of
Minnesota reopens the book on Vietnam.
By GRAYDON ROYCE, Star Tribune
Last update: February 21, 2008
Ron Peluso received the letter shortly after an early version of "The
Minnesota 8" was read at the History Theatre's Raw Stages series in
2005. A patron wrote that she would never again set foot inside the
St. Paul theater, so offensive was the drama based on Vietnam War
protesters who had raided draft boards across the state. She had been
a secretary in the St. Paul office and felt terrorized by the 1970 event.
Peluso, the History Theatre's artistic director, assured the woman
that the play was still in development. He passed along the note to
playwright Doris Baizley, who was called in after Raw Stages to take
over the script, originally by a different playwright.
"We get a little of the secretary's point of view now," said Peluso,
who indicated he's uncertain whether she'll come back for a look at
"Peace Crimes: The Minnesota Eight vs. The War," as the play is now
titled. "This one sparks really angry discussion on both sides. It
feels like one of the more important things we've done."
It opens tonight in a premiere collaboration with the University of
Minnesota's Theater Department at Rarig Center in Minneapolis.
Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame and a witness at the
Minnesota 8 trial, is expected to see the show Saturday and speak in
a University Great Conversations event next Tuesday (612-624-2345 for
A full generation has grown up since Vietnam raged in the public
consciousness and still the war rests uneasily. The U.S. occupation
of Iraq has raised its currency on both sides. Vietnam teaches us
what happens when we cut and run, advocates say. Vietnam teaches us
what happens when we bumble our way through a misguided military
adventure, opponents reply.
Those, however, are geopolitical arguments. As the disgruntled
patron's unease indicates, Vietnam's wounds are personal -- a death
of a friend, the trauma of being attacked for your beliefs, a loss of
faith in leaders we once trusted.
"The anger and the frustration in 1970 was immense and it felt like
we couldn't trust our government after that," said Baizley, a Los
Angeles writer who marks her Twin Cities stage debut with this play.
"It changed the basic things of my life and I felt since then that
I've been much more suspicious of government."
Breaking the social compact
Peluso first learned of Baizley after watching a PlayLabs reading of
her script "SexSting" in 2004. Impressed, he thought of her when he
was looking for a new writer to rework the story of eight Minnesota
men who were convicted of burglary and spent between 14 and 20 months
in prison after the break-ins in 1970. Baizley, though unfamiliar
with the case, had her own Vietnam experience. Three friends enlisted
in 1966 and only one returned from Vietnam.
"Our generals were putting kids in danger in a really terrible way
that involved lying," she said. "Then we started thinking that maybe
the guys who are running this society don't have our good at heart.
That's why when Ron told me about the Minnesota 8, something in my
mind clicked right into it."
Baizley dove into her own antiwar past -- letters from guys in
Vietnam, speeches by a friend's mother -- and also read the Minnesota
court transcripts. She saw the specifics of this case as a
jumping-off point for a wider exploration of the era, "more like a
pageant or a Diego Rivera mural."
Despite the risks of leaving his St. Paul home base, Peluso felt the
show should be produced at the University of Minnesota. After all,
the Minnesota 8 consisted mostly of students, so who better to
portray students than students?
"It allowed us to do the play as it's meant to be done," said Peluso.
For the youngsters, Vietnam is history and not the real experience it
was for Baizley and Peluso, who graduated from high school in 1968
and qualified for a student deferment. They are receptive, however,
particularly given current events in Iraq. That willingness might not
have been there during the 1980s, when young people grew tired of
hearing about the Vietnam years.
"Kids were really sick of hearing us talk about having the best
music, the best protests and I began to feel like an old jerk," said
Baizley. "These kids are enough younger and they are in their 20s
with a war going on, and an environmental crisis that has gotten them
into action and they're looking at us with more sympathy and interest."
Ironically, one of the "reforms" of the Vietnam era has dampened
today's protest movement. The Minnesota 8 targeted Selective Service
offices, and in 2008 there is no draft. Too, Vietnam was part of a
nexus of protest movements that created a counterculture synergy.
Today, especially with the Iraq war being framed as part of
anti-terrorism efforts, the public is given to a more ambiguous
response. Pew Research reported in November that a slight majority
favored withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq; yet, the number of people
who felt the military effort was going well had risen 18 points to 48
percent over the previous six months.
Lodged within those findings is the attempt by some to brand antiwar
activists as unpatriotic, a sensation that resonates with the Vietnam era.
"The reason we're doing this play is that it's about peace, protest
and patriotism," said Peluso. "There is a price you pay for speaking
out. It's surprising how much we haven't learned about the past."
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299
'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
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.