(Seguin) -- A well known novel is making the move from the page to the stage. Will's War is the popular novel written by Seguin native Janice Woods Windle. It tells a remarkable story based on many historic events including that of the treason trial of her Grandfather William Adolph Bergfeld.
The story told in the novel has now been adapted for the stage, and a theatrical reading officially opens this weekend. William "Will" Windle wrote the play that's based on his grandmother's novel. Janice says she's thrilled that this production has come together. She says that Will's War tells a not so well known story about how some citizens of German descent were treated during World War I.
"About that time, the Attorney General of the United States who was Thomas Watt Gregory decided that he could become politically powerful if he would arrest a lot of Germans and incarcerate them. People know about the Japanese being incarcerated but they really don't seem to know that in World War I, thousands of Germans were incarcerated and charged and ultimately found not guilty. But the story about Will is slightly different. He was charged with treason which was the death penalty. If he was found guilty, he would be hanged. He would leave behind his wife who was born and raised in Seguin. He would leave behind two little daughters. One of the daughters is my 103-year-old mother who will be in Seguin for this event. She was in the room with Will Bergfeld with her mother and her sister when 18 federal officers- Texas Rangers knocked down all the windows and doors of the house, knocked over the oil lamp, making it dark -- dragged him out and took him away to be incarcerated in Fort Worth and ultimately ensued a six weeks trial," said William.
It's a complex and moving story, and Janice says lots of research went into piecing all the details together.
"My personal odyssey with this story is that I had heard only bits and pieces of it. They didn't really talk about it in the family. It was such a painful time. So I started trying to find evidence that it actually happened in the case and what not. It took me off and on of 17 years of research until I came upon an archive (that) helped me locate boxes of 3,000 pages of hand typed testimony of the trial including that of Will Bergfeld from Seguin. I think this story will be keenly of interest to people from Seguin, because many of them have German surnames, many of them came from German immigrants and this is an on target story for their interest," said Janice.
Will says thanks to his own family's history, he didn't have to search hard or far for this particular theater piece.
"I spent the summer, this summer at the Cherry Orchard Theatre with Frank Levering in Virginia. He founded the theatre. He's also a playwright. Really, it was amazing to me how quickly he could just pump out a play and handwrite it. Plus, it inspired me really, because I did three plays with him that summer. I just thought 'well, what kind of play would people be interested in?' I thought about everything that was going on. The election was coming in. I remembered Will's War and I remembered that it was a courtroom drama and I thought you know that would make a great stage play," said Will.
Will says there couldn't have been a better time than now to retell his family's story.
"I re-read the book. I realized that this year is the 100 year anniversary of Will Bergfeld's trial for treason. Interestingly enough, another fun fact is he was 28 during the time of the trial and I'm turning 28 this year. I just thought it was perfect timing. It will go down in history so far as a treason trial, but I view it more as a discrimination trial and it's a big stain on our country in my opinion. What I want, the main goal of this play, is to show that if we don't study history -- we're doomed to repeat it and I thought that this was a perfect way to get that message across by doing this play and bringing it to life," said
Although 100-years-old, Will says sharing the story is still pretty relevant, and speaks to some of the same themes that are being witnessed today.
"This is a family story so it's a dream come true for everybody involved and even though there are some members of the family who aren't involved, I'm sure they think it's a dream come true as well to share this story, because not many people know that during World War I, Germans were so heavily discriminated against. It's much like today, how Muslims are so heavily discriminated against. It's almost the same thing. If we as the people are told to hate somebody or a group of people, it doesn't matter who it is, more than likely, we're going to get a good chunk of people that follow suit on that without really truly trying to understand their plight," said Will.
This first live reading of the play will feature some talented actors, who will help to bring the story to life for those in attendance. Janice says she thinks people will enjoy William's adaptation of her book.
"They are going to be five equity actors who have volunteered to read for Will, because he's a friend and they love his play. My husband who is 55 years a defense attorney is going to get a lifetime dream to play the prosecutor in the trial. My little granddaughter Janice Windle Shapiro is playing my 103-year-old mother when she was a little girl and the trial took place. So we have a lot of family members in the reading, but the story belongs to Seguin and it belongs to Will now, because he has the rights to produce a wonderful play which he has done. He's an excellent writer," said Janice.
The production is being directed by Playwright, screenwriter and professional actress Camilla Carr (Falcon's Crest) and features professional actors Ray Baker (Total Recall) and Morgana Shaw. Shaw will reprise the role of Bettie Moss King in which she first played 20 years ago in the CBS miniseries based on another of Janice's books, True Women. Janice's son and daughter-in-law Wayne and Mary Jane Windle will also appear in the production.
The reading takes place at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Texas Theater in downtown Seguin. Although the event is free, tickets are required. Tickets can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Seguin performance will be followed by a reception at the Kings-Woods home at 920 E. Court St. Those wishing to attend are also encouraged to RSVP via email.