April, 18, 2013

Behind the Scenes of Pizzaro

The goal of the Saints before, during and after Nauvoo was to find a sense of Zion.  Both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young saw broadening the cultural base of Nauvoo as a path to Zion.

The play Pizarro was directed by Thomas A. Lyne (Lynn), a skilled and popular actor from Philadelphia.Lyne came to Nauvoo after becoming curious about Joseph Smith. Lyne, who had encountered Mormonism previously, had outgrown religious beliefs and was skeptical about the Church when he arrived in Nauvoo.

Lyne’s brother-in-law George J. Adams was also an actor and he had recently converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lyne was so impressed by Adams’s stories about Joseph Smith, that he moved to Nauvoo to see for himself. After a warm welcome from the Prophet, Lyne quickly became involved in the community.

Joseph Smith believed theater could be a powerful medium of instruction, so he asked Lyne to form a drama company. In what may have been the beginning of theater for the Church, Pizzaro opened on April 24, 1844, with Adams playing the role of Pizarro. Other members of the cast included Erastus Snow, “Mr. Kimball,” “Master Woolley,” “Mr. A. Lyman,” and “Mrs. Young.” Helen, a daughter of Heber C. Kimball, also played one of the virgins in the cast. Brigham Young was cast as a high priest. Although he only appeared twice leading marches, processions and hymns, he was said to have had one of the most important roles. Tickets sold for 50 cents, which went toward paying Joseph Smith’s legal fees in Missouri.

In an interview with John S. Lindsay, Lyne humorously reflected, “I’ve always regretted having cast Brigham Young for that part of the high priest. . . . He’s been playing the character with great success ever since.”[1]

“Brother Lynn,” over the next few years, also produced The Orphan of Geneve, Douglas, The Idiot’s Witness, Damon and Pythias, The Iron Chest, and William Tell.

[1] Stanley B. Kimball, “Also Starring Brigham Young.” Ensign (Oct 1975). For more information on the topic of plays in Nauvoo, see Nola Diane Smith, “Reading across the Lines: Mormon Theatrical Formations in Nineteenth Century Nauvoo, Illinois” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 2001).