‘Burning Times’ play to open at Corner Theatre

By Katie Finlon

Mind control, line dancing and bringing a fictional character to life through social media–NIU theater faculty member Luke Krueger has done it again in playwright absurdity.

The world premiere run of “Burning Times” will begin 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Corner Theatre of the Stevens Building.

This isn’t Krueger’s first world premiere at NIU. Last year, he premiered his first show “Los Angeles!… Is Underwater,” which was about a small town in Indiana becoming the new Los Angeles after an actress is stranded in the town and Los Angeles completely floods.

The weird factor in “Burning Times” doesn’t lower much, according to Krueger.

“It’s like ‘LA,’” Krueger said. “It’s just a crazy world.”

“Burning Times” centers around school superintendent Becky Uphoff (played by junior acting major Christie Coran) tries to reform the failing school system in the fictional town of Wertzberg, Ohio.

However, it’s difficult to better the school system and understand the town’s politics when they seem to revolve around a cult. The cult following only gets more complicated when rapper Jonas Satan (pronounced ‘Shah-tan’) is thrown in the mix. The character is played by Christy Gianneschi, senior theater studies major.

The production begins with a music video of “My Bitch Mom is Dead” by Satan. The video was actually produced by Anthony Perrella Jr., the show’s guest director and alumnus, and filmed with the help of the “Burning Times” cast.

“I took the lyrics that Luke had already embedded in the script,” Perrella said. “I’m a songwriter myself, so I kinda just took it upon myself to fill out the rest of it and consult with Luke around the way. That was really an idea that I brought to him that we made happen between the two of us.”

In a world of viral videos that become famous by accident, Perrella and Krueger took it upon themselves to actually release the music video on YouTube on Jonas Satan’s own channel.

“I personally am a huge fan of multimedia,” Perrella said. “I use it in most of my shows. As soon as I read about that character, I already was like, ‘OK, we gotta do some stuff–we have to actually make some media surrounding this character.”

Ashley Nicole Hessefort, senior theater and English major and the show’s stage manager, even had a hard time explaining the premise of the show to her parents.

“I think people will be shocked,” Hessefort said. “There is some humor, but the parallels that you can find between this world and our actual reality can be quite shocking once you notice them.”

Perrella said the only way that people sometimes can accept the craziness of society is for them to see a non-reality version of what is actually happening in the world.

“Out of its absurdity and how outlandish some of the language is, you get an eerily truthful picture of what is really happening today,” Perrella said. “It’s called ‘Burning Times’ for a reason.”

Even though Krueger chuckled about how the concept of line dancing scares him–how people dance to some songs as a group even if they don’t like the song–the aspect of a group of people instinctively doing the Macarena is something worth pondering to him.

“I find comedy is such a great way where you can look at these characters and go, ‘Wow, thank God they’re not real, but they’re close,” Krueger said. “And that’s scary when you think about that–just how close these people are to people we know.”

Touching on issues like groupthink and even gun control with the absurd politics of Wertzberg, “Burning Times” reflects just how terrifying something as simple as line dancing can be.

To see the music video of “My Bitch Mom is Dead” by Jonas Satan, visit . The video opens the show “Burning Times,” which runs 8:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $6 and only available at the door one hour before the show starts.