Interview with Sheridan O’Keefe from The Ohman Stone

2695History meets the Minnesota Fringe Festival in “The Ohman Stone”. In 1898 the Kensington Runestone was found near Alexandria, Minnesota and its existence and origin have been the subject of many debates throughout history. Now, playwright and director Sheridan O’Keefe puts a musical spin on the topic at this year’s Fringe.

For more information on the show, visit the Fringe Festival page here.

Where did the inspiration for this show come from?

Our play is about the Swedish immigrant farmer Olof Ohman and how he and his family were affected by his discovery of what most call the Kensington Runestone (KRS). As a person who was born and raised in Minnesota, I’ve known about the KRS almost all my life but 8 years ago I went to a presentation at the Swedish Institute on the KRS by Scott Wolter, a local geologist who now has a show on the History Channel called “America Unearthed”. Scott’s presentation intrigued me so much that I read his book “The KRS; Compelling New Evidence” and became convinced that the KRS WAS an authentic 14th century artifact left here in 1362 as a land claim by Norsemen from Sweden and Norway. Over the years I read many other books, both pro and con against the Stone. Then last fall I drove up to Alexandria and toured the KRS Museum and the Ohman farm near Kensington. Darwin Ohman, the grandson of Olof Ohman, accompanied me and Glen Thorsander who is our Prop Designer and Stage Manager for the show. That trip was the catalyst for me writing and producing this show because I felt that Olof, who was a good man, had to have his story told and his name vindicated.

What challenges are you presented with when preparing for a Fringe Show, versus a show with a longer run?

The KRS has a 116 year history. Many books have been written about it including one by the famous Dean of History at the University of Minnesota Theodore Blegen, who is in my play as ghost by the way. It was hard to cram so much into less than 60 minutes. I had a lot of help from the Dramaturg I worked with through The Playwright Center, as well as my wife Holly, my long time friend Greg Kagan and Jenni Charrier who is a producer of the show as well as a cast member in condensing the material.

What do you hope the audiences take from this show?

That the public shouldn’t just accept everything they hear from academia, the media and other authority figures as fact. That they should do their own critical thinking on important issues to determine if something is true.  Academics are as guilty of group think as any other group – maybe more so because of political pressures or competing for grant money. Further, we have been taught  things in school that were false, like Christopher Columbus was a good man and that he discovered America. False.  I also want the audience to realize that what is accepted as true at one point in time may change completely as new discoveries are made in archeology and science.

When you originally submitted for the Fringe lottery, was “The Ohman Stone” the show you intended to perform or did the show change?

Yes,this is the show we applied with. We’re just happy we got in.

How would you describe The Ohman Stone to someone interested in coming to the show?

I’ve been describing it as Hamlet meets 12 Angry Men – the Musical, because as in Hamlet , his sleeping father is killed by poison being poured into his ear while he slept in his garden.  I think of the “poison” as a metaphor, especially as it relates to my play. Poison in this case is the defamation and slander that Olof Ohman and his family went through for years.  Some were strong enough to bear this ridicule and slander from academia and the press like Olof but others were not , like his daughter Amanda who hanged herself in the family farmhouse after being bullied by a local small town academic who had his crazy unsubstantiated stories about Olof and his friend Sven Fogelblad published in The Tribune newspaper around 1950.

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