“The Epiphany” reading
Bruce Olav Solheim’s play packs strong emotions
Mari-Ann Kind Jackson
The Nordic Heritage Museum was buzzing with voices revealing many different Norwegian dialects on January 22. One hour before the official start of the staged reading of the play, Epiphany, the auditorium filled to capacity with a majority of grey-haired people, most of whom knew Knut Einarsen, and who had experienced WWII somewhere in Norway.
Einarsen, the 100-year-young, dapper fellow, had escaped North Norway by walking over the mountains across the border to Sweden with his wife, Haldis, and others who were in danger of being caught by the German occupying forces. On this evening at the Museum he would be recognized with a medal—actually a gold coin—presented to persons of merit by one of the wartime centers in Kongsvinger, Norway. Making the presentation was an emotional Åge Johnny Nabben Olsen, who had traveled to Seattle to participate in the staged reading and to present Einarsen with this huge honor.
Knut gratefully received the medal, and proudly showed it to anyone approaching. We congratulate Knut with the honor which he so deserves!
When the buffet table was empty and every smidgen of the Norwegian food consumed, Gene S. Torkildsen, local producer and director of the play, introduced the CEO of the Nordic Heritage Museum, Eric Nelson, who welcomed everyone. Torkildsen then introduced his childhood friend, playwright Bruce Olav Solheim of the Norwegian-American Veterans Theatre Project of Citrus College, Glendora, Calif. The play was dedicated to Solheim’s Norwegian parents; to Torkildsen’s father, a WWII resistance member; to Einarsen; and to all veterans.
Entering the stage, Olsen and eight local actors took their places on chairs. During the next hour and a half we were witness to a family of five North Norwegians in Andøy whose home became the residence of a German Nazi officer, played by Thorkildsen, and his Norwegian girlfriend, played by Deanna Sarkar, as well as the under officer, played by Kevin Dailey. The family experiences the trauma of war, the cruelty of the Nazis, discontent, and disagreements over the course of the occupation, as each one deals with his or her feelings toward the German officers and the need for normalcy during wartime.
Epiphany portrays the internal family struggle brought on by the mother of the household, played by Lorraine Montez, who is sympathetic toward the Vehrmacht and bullishly tries to convince her family that they should feel like her. Her son, played by Rick Walters, is a resistance fighter, who is estranged from his young wife and also lives in the home. He cannot successfully convince his mother that the Germans are a danger to the country and not there to help, as she believes. The young wife, played by Tabitha Bastien, works to keep harmony in the home with the German soldiers present, and is hired to work for the colonel, a job her mother-in-law strongly encourages her to take. She experiences acts of kindness from the under-officer, who at one point expresses quietly and carefully that Hitler is bad. The father in the home, played by Olsen, expresses strong feelings against the Germans, much to his wife’s dissatisfaction.
In the home is also an old aunt, played by Marie Verschueren, a Sami woman whose philosophy and culture come to the forefront with the joiking at times, much to the irritation of the mother of the house. The old woman also must put up with the German colonel, who in an emotionally disturbing and dramatic scene toward the end orders her on her knees to clean the porch by licking it.
The young wife comes to appreciate and acknowledge her Sami heritage thanks to the old aunt. She also becomes aware that she can no longer work for the Germans, and the whole family comes to the same conclusion, eventually: that they could all do their part for the Norwegian resistance. Even the tough mother of the house comes around.
Throughout the play we hear the BBC news voice-over by James Lyle, broadcasting what the situation was in the rest of Europe. As it becomes clear that the war is almost over, the young woman tears down the Nazi flag and raises the Norwegian red, white, and blue. Without divulging the final outcome, let it be known that the play ends dramatically with the family members exclaiming, “Everything for Norway”—“Alt for Norge.”
The play brought up many memories for those of us who experienced WWII as young children or young people in Norway. Following the conclusion of the performance several discussions ensued regarding the resistance and the conflicting feelings of giving up as opposed to fighting for what we knew to be our right.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 6, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.