Play depicts life of one of witnesses to Book of Mormon

Thunder clouds and a lightning storm added an unplanned dramatic backdrop to opening night of the 12th annual pageant, "The Man Who Knew," which depicts the life of Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

The pageant opened Aug. 12 to a capacity crowd of 2,500. About 18,000 attended the production during its seven-day run, Aug. 12-13, 16-20, with about 1,000 non-LDS or less-active members attending each night. The pageant's author, Rhett S. James, said more than 60,000 requests for tickets were received this year; thus, tickets are already being reserved for the 1995 production.Held in Clarkston, Utah, about 20 miles northwest of Logan, Utah, the pageant, directed by Duane J. Huff, is set in the Martin Harris Memorial Amphitheater, which is less than 100 feet from the grave of Martin Harris. He died in Clarkston on July 10, 1875.

Despite the thunder clouds, the "weather was excellent" opening night, said Brother James.

Brother James added, "Increasingly, people are fascinated by the testimony of Martin Harris, and the other witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.

"I think there's probably two reasons for the response. One is the promise in the Doctrine and Covenants that when the testimonies of the three witnesses shall be borne, the Holy Ghost would bear witness.

"I think the other reason is people are increasingly interested about the subject of God and man's relationship with God. This interest becomes a rather intimate search for knowledge on the part of people who come to the play."

Brother James explained that for several years now, presidencies of Utah areas and the presidency of the North America Northwest Area have encouraged members to invite less-active members and non-LDS people to the play.

"This year, the 7,000 tickets set aside for missionary purposes were gone in three weeks," he added.

For the second year, the pageant contained a scene where an actor portraying the Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and Martin Harris. Brother James told the Church News that this came as a result of a suggestion by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Council of Twelve. "The counsel of Elder Wirthlin has greatly enhanced the quality of the performance."

The production includes a cast of 135 and a production staff of 500. The story line centers on the life of Martin Harris and his part as a witness to the Book of Mormon. However, the performance begins in modern times as a youth, Jimmy, listens to an elderly woman's testimony of how she once heard Martin Harris's witness.

A dramatic scene comes during the pageant when the actor portraying Martin Harris realizes he has lost the 116 manuscript pages of the translation of the Book of Mormon. But after sincere repentance, he is chosen as one of the three witnesses, along with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.

Prior to the performances, visitors listened to a lecture on the life of Jesus Christ and on the life of Martin Harris. For the fifth year, artist Bill L. Hill presented "The Witness Series," which includes a lecture, paintings, sculptures and writings about people who testified of Jesus Christ.

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