Oh, boy — John Muir is back

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” That quote from famed naturalist and conservationist John Muir is an example of the depth he felt for nature and open spaces. It is that essence of activism and environmental intellect that actor Lee Stetson brings to his role in the one man show, “John Muir Is Back (And Boy, Is He Ticked Off)” that will be performed at 7 p.m. on March 22 at the Alex Theatre.

“I have been [performing] the character for 27 seasons,” Stetson said.

He has developed five different stage productions that cover Muir's adventures in the wilderness.

Muir was born in 1838 in Scotland and immigrated with his parents to America when he was a young boy. He was a wilderness explorer that wrote books and articles about his exciting adventures and pled his case to save the environment. His words helped inspire President Theodore Roosevelt conservation programs. In 1892 Muir, along with other supporters, formed the Sierra Club.

“The truth is he was one of the first voices to make Americans aware of the need for public lands,” Stetson said, “and to appreciate the beauty and fragility of nature.”

Stetson has a degree in history, was a teacher in the Peace Corps and has performed on stage and television prior to finding his Muir calling.

“I was probably more of an armchair environmentalist when I first came across Muir [over 20 years ago],” he said.

There was a lot of material about the naturalist from his own writings in books and articles, but Stetson said it was his journals that revealed the true heart of the man. At the base of the play that will be performed at the Alex is a look at how Muir would react to the world around him.

In the late 1800s California saw an influx of people due to the Gold Rush and the railroad that stretched across the country. In this environment he worked and help save Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park and many other wilderness areas.

Stetson said that if Muir were alive today he would never have dreamed that the world would be in the condition it is now.

“He wouldn't understand the dimensions,” he said. “He would have thought we could pollute the air in one [location] but would never dream how we have affected the entire world. That parts of the ocean would be polluted, but the entire ocean threatened, he would not be [able to grasp].”

It was not that Muir didn't understand the impact of ignoring nature, it is just that the far-reaching affect would be a surprise, even to him.

The play focuses not only on Muir's activism but also on his adventures in the wilderness. It is educational, entertaining and thought-provoking that the entire family will enjoy, Stetson said.

The production is presented by Crescenta Valley Sierra Club, Glendale-Crescenta V.O.I.C.E. (Volunteers Organized in Conserving the Environment) and Glendale Arts. Proceeds for the productions will go toward preserving open space in Glendale and the Crescenta Valley. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the Alex Theatre box office at 216 N. Brand Blvd. or online at www.alextheatre.org or contact the theater at (818) 243-2539.

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