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'The Things They Carried' is Saturday at Memorial

Actor/writer Stowell performs one-man adaptation of Tim O’Brien work

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Jim Stowell is pictured in a scene in his stage performance based on Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." (Submitted photo)

WORTHINGTON — The uniquely heavy load borne by war veterans is the topic of the acclaimed one-man show, “The Things They Carried,” based on Worthington native Tim O’Brien’s award-winning novel.

And with Veterans Day on the horizon, Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center’s managing director Tammy Makram thought it was an ideal time to program the topical presentation.

“This is a perfect way to honor our veterans while featuring the outstanding creative work of two people — Tim O’Brien and Jim Stowell — with direct Worthington ties,” said Makram.

O’Brien, a Worthington High School and Macalester College graduate who was drafted to serve in Vietnam, went on to pen some of the most decorated literature about that war.

Indeed, “The Things They Carried” earned both the Chicago Tribute Heartland Prize and France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger Award following its 1990 publication; it was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award.

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Jim Stowell — himself a U.S. Air Force veteran who is married to Worthington native Jessica Zuehlke — is a successful Minnesota-based actor and writer who adapted “The Things They Carried” for stage.

Next Saturday at 7 p.m., Stowell presents what he calls a “shorter, cleaner version” of “The Things They Carried” for local audiences.

“The History Theatre brought it to Worthington in 2014, but this is a slightly stripped-down edition that is all about the story and the storyteller,” said Stowell in a phone interview.

“The Things They Carried’ addresses the confusion, fear, doubt and horror that is the reality of war, which is different from the heroic images sometimes presented or imagined.”

Stowell’s artistic career spans several decades and has touched many aspects of theater (writing, directing and performing) as well as thousands of people both regionally and nationally.

“On Nov. 11, in fact, my next stop for this show is the United Solo Theater Festival in New York City — right on 42nd Street,” said Stowell.

As a playwright, Stowell has appreciated the support of venues such as the History Theatre, which has produced a number of his works.

“It’s a wonderful and unique theater,” praised Stowell.

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His stage adaptation of “The Things They Carried” has also been well received in recent years at performing arts sites in Florida and in the Washington, D.C., area.

“But I’m very excited about the Worthington performance,” assured Stowell.

“Being in the hometown of both Tim O’Brien and my wife — New York will be easy after that,” he laughed.

“I’ve spent five years or more with Tim O’Brien’s book and work, and getting to do this in his hometown is really sweet for me personally.”

Though rooted in O’Brien’s Vietnam experiences, Stowell believes “The Things They Carried” transcends time and place.

“It’s any soldier’s story,” said Stowell. “The art of it is that the more specific and local a story like this is, the more universal it becomes — and O’Brien’s writing is brilliant.

“He touches universal points that speak to all of us through his own specificity.”

Stowell cautions that patrons shouldn’t expect a large set or elaborate theatrics with “The Things They Carried.”

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“This is stripped back to theater’s fundamental moving parts — the story and the storyteller — and because I’ve spent most of my adult life in theater, I love it,” he said.

He also advises that the material in “The Things They Carried” is most suitable for theater goers ages 12 and over.

“It’s war,” Stowell simply stated.

Stowell looks forward to sharing with Worthington audiences this compelling work by another Worthington native son.

“The audience members become engaged and active participants as the story goes along, and that’s really cool,” said Stowell, who said he always enjoys being in Worthington.

“The Things They Carried” is performed by Jim Stowell at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center, 714 13th St., Worthington, at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 2. Tickets are available at the box office weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., by calling 376-9101 or by visiting friendsoftheauditorium.com. Veterans and current U.S. service members receive a 50% ticket discount.

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