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A tale of deceit, murder and robbery

April 2, 2009

HOUGHTON - Rascally antics and roisterous characters make up the cast of a story surrounding deceit, murder and robbery at Michigan Technological University.

Tech Theatre Company's "The Robber Bridegroom," by Alfred Uhry and Robert Waldman, will take the stage at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 10, and Saturday, April 11, at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts at Michigan Tech.

The production is comprised of Michigan Tech students and members of the community in the cast and the band. The designers are students and faculty members, Patricia Helsel, head of the theatre and electronic media performance said. Every year at Michigan Tech, four productions are put on through visual and performing arts student shows, she said.

"We don't often do a musical because it uses a lot of resources," Helsel said.

Musicals are put on at Michigan Tech about every other year, she added.

The musical is about the outlaws of the Natchez Trace, an ancient trail used by animals and people that connected southern portions of the Mississippi River through Alabama and Tennessee.

"The characters are just outrageous," Helsel said. "They're all despicable characters, even the good characters the audience has to look at and say, 'You know, I've got to be better than that.'"

The outlaws, the Harp Brothers, formed a gang of murderers who would rob planters who have gone down to New Orleans to trade their goods. The outlaws would rob them of the money they have just made.

"In my research, I have found out that the Harp Brothers were a real gang," she said.

The play is based on a 1942 folktale-style short story by Eudora Welty and all of the characters are humorous in their own manor.

"There's a fine line between what could have been historically frightening to what's actually funny, so all the characters are exaggerated," she said.

The style of the music has a bluegrass sound and incorporates country sounds into more than 20 songs for the production, she said. The band is comprised of two fiddles, two guitars, a banjo and a bass and they will appear on stage in various places.

"There's some songs that are definitely folk-like, square dance numbers and there are others that are really beautiful ballads," she said. "It's got a great mixture."

Often when "The Robber Bridegroom" is produced, it's set in a barn present-day, in Rodney, Miss., where a party is taking place. The people at the party decide to tell the story of "The Robber Bridegroom." However, after her extensive research, Helsel found there is nothing left of Rodney except some broken down trailers, trash piles and a population of zero.

"So I thought, let's set the play in present-day in Rodney, Miss.," she said.

For the production, the crew is going to put a broken-down trailer, junk piles and the foundation of a building on stage. The band will arrive in a pickup truck and stay on stage and the story will be told using only things that would be part of present-day Rodney.

"When they go back to 1795 along the Natchez Trace, they go from a present-day barbecue and take pieces of the set for costuming," she said.

For example, the awning from the trailer becomes somebody's skirt and other pieces are used as well.

"One of the characters is dressed in a pillow case for her top, an awning from the trailer as her skirt and then she has toilet seat covers attached and her wig is a mop head," she said.

Tickets are $14 for the general public, $7 for those 18 years of age and under and free for Michigan Tech students with proof of a valid MTU ID. Tickets can be purchased at the Rozsa Center Box Office, located in the Rozsa Center lobby, by calling 487-3200 or by visiting

Stacey Ashcraft can be reached at



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