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The Mark Inside


Lou was cast as the villain in this 2007 theatrical production in Sweden


SwedenSome lazy Saturday night Googling turned up a most unexpected result. It appears that the character of Lou Blonger made his stage debut on March 17 in a production called Arizona, in the college town of Skövde in southern Sweden.

In an amazing coincidence, we have more than a passing familiarity with Skövde. Our great-great-great-great-grandfather, Petter Lars Andersson, was born there in 1743. (Hey, stop laughing — I’m not making this up!)  Our immigrant ancestor, Johan Gabriel Johansson, lived just 15 miles away before he left his homeland for America in 1886. And in 1981, members of our family, myself included, disembarked from the train in Skövde on our way to the ancestral home at Vättlösa. But none of this has anything to do with Lou Blonger, who resides on the other side of the family tree and who we believe, heretofore, had never uttered a word på svenska.

How did this production come about? Swedish universities have a theatrical tradition called spex (short for “spectacle”) that combines aspects of musical theater, improv, and farce placed against a historical setting. There’s also an element of cross-dressing, not unlike the Hasty Pudding revues at Harvard, that harkens back to a time when the students, and thus the actors, were all male.

When I asked for more information on the news of Lou's theatrical debut, I received a very helpful explanation from Johan Ragnarsson, writer, choreographer, and spexgeneral of Arizona. The idea for his story came while listening to the song Hot Stuff by Donna Summer, which is a good example of how convoluted the writing process can be. But before I allow Johan to go into more detail on the plot, let’s cut to the chase, the moment we’ve all been waiting for:

Johan Ragnarsson
is Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday
and Jonatan Streith
is Lou Blonger

Lou Blonger
in ATLAS2's world premiere production of


Johan explains the plot and its inspiration:

A spex is a musical comedy, produced by university students, usually with new texts for old melodies. The audience may interact with the show by shouting for a replay of any event on stage, or be more specific by for example shouting "backwards", "faster", "harder", "in German" and so on. Traditionally the story of a spex is built around a historical person or event.
So, how did I come up with the idea for Arizona? Well, I believe it actually started while I was driving a car, listening to Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff, and realized that this sounds almost like hosta (which is Swedish for “cough”). That could be a spex song. Then I just had to figure out what historical person would sing a song about coughing. I kept thinking about it, and eventually realized that Doc Holliday was a good idea.
So what could happen around Doc Holiday? Since he was a dentist, I came up with an idea of an Armageddon parody. In the movie Armageddon, Bruce Willis plays the world's best driller who has to stop a meteorite from destroying Earth. Dentists also have drills, so I went for this idea.
Next I had to come up with what characters should be in the story, what they should do, and what year it would take place, so I did some research, mainly through Wikipedia. I needed a meteorite and a doomsday prophecy. I found out that a comet was seen in 1882, which also was the year of the end of the world according to the predictions of Charles Piazzi Smyth.
I needed a bad guy. A con artist could have good use of a town full of people scared by the thought of the end of existence. I looked for one and found Lou Blonger. (It seems that the real Lou Blonger actually helped the Earp gang during their vendetta ride, but in this story I let them be enemies.) I also put the astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt in the story as a counterweight. She would be the reasonable one, that doesn't believe in the doomsday, or in anything that Lou tries to convince the people that they need. From these and some other ideas, I wrote a synopsis, which I called Tombstone eller Kometen kommer. A spex traditionally have two titles. Kometen kommer [The Comet is Coming] is the Swedish title of Tove Jansson’s book Comet in Moominland.
We actually did a lot of changes to the synopsis. Instead of keeping the story in Tombstone, we let a group of five walk through the desert to the impact place, where they would hopefully find out if the world really is in danger, and if so, how the danger can be stopped. This change is the reason why the title was altered to Arizona.
We decided that the group should consist of Doc, Charles and Henrietta. This version of Henrietta was the assistant of Charles, and after a while, since she wasn't the same person any more, we changed her surname name to Haeger. The last two of the group was Wyatt Earp and a ten-year-old Pearl Hart. (After having some information mailed to me from the library of Pearl's home city, we changed Pearl's name to Lillie Davey, since this was probably her birth name. She isn't called Pearl Hart until the end of the show.) We also decided that one of the members of the group should be a traitor, that is sent by Lou.
Markus and I and David who also joined the writing team, worked on the script during the last summer, and eventually got to this:
We start in Tombstone, which is the home of Lou, Wyatt, Doc, Lillie and Mayor Clum. Charles P. Smyth enters with a huge sign, shouting about the judgment day and brimstone and mooses. The five comet-hunters start there journey towards the impact place at the top of Humphreys Peak. On there way, they meet the Indian tribe of Paracopa (which sounds almost like Maricopa, but somewhat more like a flying tortoise), they walk through dangerous parts of the desert, where piles of sand move by themselves, they meet John Swilling, the founder of Phoenix, who lives all alone in a city he calls Stonewall, they almost dry to death in the desert, since the traitor has emptied the water bottles, they meet Robert and Arvid from Vilhelm Moberg’s Emigrants books, and they face Yellow Jack, the embodiment of yellow fever. After all this, they have finally reached Humphreys Peak, the traitor is exposed, the comet comes, but the earth survives. Lillie becomes Pearl, Doc starts selling mayflowers, Lou plants the Bois de Boulogne in various parts of Europe, Charles gets involved in the invention of Coca-Cola and Wyatt returns to Tombstone for the gun-fight at O.K. Corral (even though it actually happened in 1881).

Whew!  And all of this in 120 minutes!

Not understanding the "Bois de Boulogne" reference, I asked Johan for some guidance, and he replied:

As far as I know, there are three Bois de Boulogne. Or actually there is only one Bois de Boulogne, but there are also two Boulognerskogar in Sweden. There is one Boulognerskog in Gävle and one in Skövde. They were both inspired by the French Bois de Boulogne. Boulognerskogen in Skövde is the location of our student house, where there among other things is pub on Wednesdays and disco (or dhisko according to the studentic tradition of strange spellings) on Saturdays. This house was also where Arizona was played. The house is called Boulogner.

When I presented the script for Arizona to the actors, most people didn't realize that Lou Blonger was an actual historical person. Someone thought it was just an anagram for Boulogner. And I hadn't even thought of the similarity of the names until then. So I added this to the script afterwards:

Lou Blonger rymde från fängelset och emigrerade till Europa, där han försökte sig på att plantera skog i Gästrikland, Paris och Västergötland. Det var han ganska kass på. Träden stod glest, och skogarna blev parker. Dessutom kunde varken fransoserna eller svenskarna lära sig att stava hans namn riktigt.

Lou Blonger escaped from jail and emigrated to Europe, where he tried to plant forests in Gästrikland, Paris, and Västergötland [the region were Skövde is located]. He was rather bad at it. The trees were scrawny and the forests turned into parks. In addition, neither the French nor the Swedes ever learned to spell his name correctly.

Powered by such imagination, Arizona completed its brief run on March 31. But here’s the best thing: There is a national spex competition on May 18 in Örebro. Yes, it is still possible to see Lou Blonger — perhaps for the last time ever, who knows? — on stage. Unfortunately, circumstances prevent any of the staff from attending, but we do have a cousin who’s studying in Sweden. Adam, are you available?

Johan notes that a DVD of the show will be available when editing is complete. Until then, readers of this forum will have to be satisfied with the following links:

Photos of the production (Swedish)
ATLAS2 spex company (Swedish)
University of Skövde (English)

— SJ

It's official, the results are in! Johan Ragnarsson's production of Arizona!, starring Johan as Doc Holliday and Jonatan Streith as Lou Blonger, has won the 2007 national spex competition special jury prize "for its genuine joy and commitment, which demonstrated the essence of spex: having fun." Congratulations to the cast and crew!

— CJ



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