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Mushroom Picker Previewed

Analise Lipari | Monday, October 6, 2008

Today and tomorrow, the Philbin Studio Theatre will host “The Mushroom Picker” on behalf of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame. “The Mushroom Picker” is a one-man show written by playwright Patrick Dewane.The play tells the story of Dewane’s Czech-American grandfather, Matt Konop. A member of the “Greatest Generation,” Konop was a World War II veteran whose radio handle in the 1970s, “the Mushroom Picker,” helped inspire Dewane’s venture into his family’s past. The play moves from Konop’s roots in a Midwestern Czech farming community – Konop was born near Green Bay, Wisconsin – to the war years.Dewane cites his heritage and family background, as members of the Czech immigrant community in the United States, as the larger inspiration and overarching context of the show.”Those people, my people spoke Czech for fifty years in this country before they learned English,” Dewane told Minnesota Public Radio in May.The play is presented in English with various references to that Czech language. According to Dewane’s retelling, this lingual duplicity is what lent his grandfather to military service. Konop was a lieutenant colonel in the Army whose unit led the liberation of Czechoslovakia from Nazi forces. Fluent in Czech and English, Konop was able to play a critical role in the operation. Those years of Konop’s life are the main focus of “The Mushroom Picker.”Dewane, in an interview featured on the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Web site, retells how he came across his grandfather’s story. “Twenty years after he died, my sister Jane is in my aunt’s basement, rummaging through old things, and she comes across a box that has a stack of writings. She brought them out and made copies of them, and handed out my grandfather’s writing as Christmas presents.”Dewane was struck by the poignancy of the writing that Konop had left behind.”I became obsessed with his story,” Dewane said, “So what I did is I turned it into a one-man show. I’ve come to believe that he wrote down his stories for me, that I could tell them to you.””The Mushroom Picker” is playing tonight and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $8 for faculty and staff, and $5 for seniors and students. Veterans are invited to the performance with a special ticket price of $5. The show will run approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes.