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Play to premiereBluffton University’s fall play is getting its full-fledged premiere on the Ramseyer Auditorium stage.

"The Castle of Otranto," adapted by John Minigan several years ago from a 1764 novel by Horace Walpole, has been scaled back for presentations as a staged reading and as a workshop production at the Orlando (Fla.) PlayFest. But it will be produced in full form for the first time Nov. 3-6 at Bluffton.

Darin Kerr, visiting instructor of theatre this fall, is directing the show, set for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3-5 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 6 in the College Hall auditorium. Tickets, $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for senior citizens (65 and over) and non-Bluffton students, are available online at or by contacting the box office at 419-358-3239 or

Kerr has read the book—deemed to be the first Gothic novel—and came across Minigan’s stage adaptation in 2008. "From an artistic standpoint, I like that it functions on multiple levels," as both comedy and drama, he notes, saying that’s one reason why he chose to stage it at Bluffton. "I’m a fan of the Gothic as well," adds Kerr, who has been in contact with Minigan, a Boston-area teacher as well as playwright, about the production.

Kerr says he also believes "The Castle of Otranto" addresses questions central to Bluffton as an institution. "How do we find peaceful ways of relating to one another?" is one of them, he suggests, although the play provides "the ways that don’t work."

The main character is Prince Manfred, who, when an enormous helmet crashes through his castle roof and kills his son Conrad, schemes to find a new heir to ensure his family’s continued rule. His maneuvers include imprisoning without a trial the man he deems responsible for the falling helmet—which becomes the prison—and trying to divorce his wife so he can marry his dead son’s fiancée. At the same time, a huge leg and other oversized body parts start appearing throughout the castle as a prophecy unfolds.

While he does bad things, Manfred is often simply "overruled by passions," Kerr says, pointing out that Minigan also constructed his adaptation as a response to the American response to 9/11. "He exhibits all the paranoia of a ruler who’s afraid his rule is coming to an end."

The helmet and body parts are depicted through sound, lighting and movement as the story advances via narration by the play’s seven actors, six of whom play multiple characters. "It’s a challenging piece because it demands flexibility of style" from "over the top" to realistic emotion, the director explains. "All of the roles are great, so it provides opportunities for the student-actors to work on different skills."

He hopes the audience, like the actors, will engage with the production. "Multiplicity of response is what I like to go for," says Kerr, who is completing his Ph.D. in theatre at Bowling Green State University while filling in at Bluffton this semester for Dr. Melissa Friesen, who is on sabbatical.


Bluffton public relations, 10/21/11