Pageant depicts life, struggles of witness to the Book of Mormon

Devotion to God, loyalty, humility, betrayal and pride are portrayed in a Church pageant depicting the life of one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

The 11th annual Martin Harris pageant, "The Man Who Knew," opened Aug. 13 to a capacity crowd of about 2,700. About 17,000 total attended the Aug. 13-14, 17-21 production, with an estimated 150-300 non-LDS attending per night. And for the second year, a Spanish translation of the pageant was provided through headphones on Aug. 17 and 19.The annual pageant is set in an amphitheater adjacent to a cemetery just outside of Clarkston, Utah, 20 miles northwest of Logan. Near the amphitheater is the grave of and monument to Martin Harris. The farmlands of Cache Valley provide a green backdrop for the pageant's stage, which depicts Palmyra, N.Y., in the 1820s.

Several General Authorities and their wives attended opening night, including Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve; and four members of the Seventy: Elders F. Enzio Busche of the Utah North Area Presidency; and Malcolm S. Jeppsen, Albert Choules Jr. and David E. Sorensen of the Utah South Area Presidency. As of Aug. 15, Elder Sorensen became a member of the Asia Area Presidency. Elder Joe J. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife attended the pageant Aug. 17.

In remarks before the pageant began, Elder Perry described Martin Harris as "a most interesting man who teaches us much about life."

He encouraged those attending to listen and open their hearts and souls.

After the pageant, Elder Perry told the Church News: "The performance was just magnificent. It's something everyone should make an effort to see. It's good to have that witness relived here on this hill where [Martin Harris'sT memory stands as a monument to everyone of the testimonies of the Book of Mormon.

"This is an opportunity to relive that great story," he continued. "He was a special man. His life is a great witness of the testimony of the Book of Mormon."

The pageant's director, Duane J. Huff, called this year's opening night "probably the best opening night we've ever had in 11 years. It's been a marvelous experience."

The author of "The Man Who Knew," Rhett S. James, added: "What's exciting about the play is it is a live performance. There's an excitement and a power that is felt in a live performance, and you feel the real witness."

Brother Huff related, "We put the whole show together in three weeks in rehearsals, but our leads carry over." He explained that some characters have been played by the same actor or actress for years.

Two such actors - a father and son - are great-great- and great-great-great grandsons of Martin Harris. For four straight years, Neil Harris has played the part of "The Man," and his son, Jason, 17, has played the character Jimmy, a modern-day youth. Both parts are leads in the pageant.

For the past three years, the father and son have driven 18 hours from Ventura, Calif., where they live, to Clarkston to perform. The first year the pair performed together they lived in Montpelier, Idaho.

"I'm kind of taken away every time we do this with the fact that my great-great-grandfather actually witnessed the gold plates," Brother Harris said. "It gives me a lot greater desire to dig in and really be a Book of Mormon scholar."

The Harris's characters appear early in the pageant. After listening to the testimony of an elderly woman who once heard Martin Harris's witness, Jimmy turns to the audience and asks how he can gain a testimony.

Suddenly, Jimmy hears his name called and turns to meet "The Man," a gray-haired gentleman dressed in styles from the early 1800s. "The Man" is then depicted taking Jimmy back in time to Palmyra, N.Y., to witness the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which was published in 1830.

The pageant continues as a once-well-respected Martin Harris is taunted for befriending Joseph Smith. Martin and the Prophet defy persecution as they work to translate the gold plates, with Martin acting as scribe.

Succumbing to the harassment of his wife, Lucy, Martin asks Joseph if he can show the first 116 pages of the manuscript to her. The Prophet petitions the Lord three times on the matter and finally hands the manuscript over to his scribe. Tragedy strikes as the manuscript is lost.

After sincere repentance, Martin is chosen as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, along with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.

An addition to the pageant this year is the portrayal of the appearance of the Angel Moroni to Joseph Smith and Martin Harris. After seeing the angel and the gold plates, Martin mortgages his farm and finances the publication of the Book of Mormon.

The pageant concludes as Jimmy returns to modern times. He asks "The Man" what his name is. "I'm Martin Harris," is the reply.

The two-hour performance is preceded by lectures on the life of Jesus Christ and on the life of Martin Harris. And for the fourth year, artist Bill L. Hill presented "The Witness Series" lecture featuring paintings, sculptures and writings about people who testified of Jesus Christ.

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