A Review of “On Air”

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My new play, On Air, which I blogged about earlier this summer, received a wonderful production at Scripps Ranch Theatre, San Diego, in July 2016, produced by Robert May.

I’m happy to feature here a review of the play by San Diego-based writer, artist and professor Mindy Donner.


ON AIR
Scripps Ranch Theatre (SRT) presents the 5th Annual OUT ON A LIMB:
New Plays from America’s Finest City 2016

ON AIR is one of those plays informed by and telling about the Viet Nam War
era, and they get it right! “They” are the powerful playwright, Lisa Kirazian; director,
Liz Shipman; their fine cast, and the tech folks at Scripps Ranch Theatre.
The plot takes us along the journey of a dedicated educator, writer and on-air
producer of a reader’s theater hour at a local east county, San Diego radio station. The
entire production echoes and amplifies the eidetic quality of the writing, and that of our
central character, Gary Gordian, a community college professor who believes not only in
his students, but in the transformational possibilities inherent in delving into great works
of literature.

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Gary Gordian’s character and story is based upon and inspired by a real-life Gary
and his wife, Siran. Francis Gercke’s Gary was so believable and passionate that I could
hardly believe he was cast just two weeks prior to the opening. This is a great love story:
the love of Gary for Siran, a poetic seamstress who emigrated from Beirut; her love for
Gary and family; and Gary’s love of teaching the great books to a cadre of students
with limited resources. Siran, as played by Mariel Shaw, is graceful in all aspects,
shimmers with an ethereal beauty and has a core made of steel.

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Throughout the play, the pervasive thread is that of Gary longing for “greatness”–
to be a successful writer, to teach at Berkeley, to earn a real salary–and that of Siran’s
longing for home and family–her need to stay in one place close to extended family.
Siran’s rather old-world brother, Van, is asked to not visit after a boorish evening at
dinner at which he orders his sister around and around! Van is performed by Carlos
Angel-Barajas, who takes another turn as Juan, a Spanish writer with whom Gary has a
meaningful correspondence. While Juan is a more empathetic character, it is revealed
that Van wanted to be a priest, rather than a banker. No character is allowed to be one dimensional in this production.

And that is not the only relationship which becomes strained and frayed—Gary’s
“friend” at the college warns him that he is up for review and suspected of altering
students’ grade in order to give them a military deferment. Charles Peters is jocular and
almost despicable as Ben, fellow professor—who is on the make with his female
students. Gary’s radio station threatens to cut his show, as the listening audience for
“great books” in San Diego is on the wane. Disillusionment threatens to take over Gary’s
soul, if not livelihood.

The stage, which is long and shallow, is deftly designed into smaller focus areas
which become Gary’s college office with desk, his tiny writing study, the Gordian’s living
room, and offstage is quite believable as their bedroom. This suited the play, and the
acting within to a tee. Kudos to Bob Shuttleworth, scenic designer, and Liz Shipman,
who envisioned the perfect world for this play.

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Gary’s college students were delightful with earnest longings, confusion, angst
and all that students really experienced during that fateful era. Robert Bradvica, as
Steven; Michael Crosby as Mitch; Christopher Torborg as Shay, and Michelle Marie
Trester as Abbey/Toni—all were praiseworthy.

Gary gets his opportunity to take a job at Berkeley; Siran almost dies bearing their
child; and they transform into people who now know what is most important.
Siran realizes that “home” is where Gary and their child reside. Gary knows he is
committed to teach these community college students, who truly need him.

The delicacy and beauty of Siran in the “hospital”, a chair, her child which is
birthed from a blanket folded just so, and nurtured by mother and father, and Siran’s
Armenian dance of joie de vivre to follow are traces of director and choreographer Liz
Shipman’s imaginative fingerprint on this production.

This memorable and inspiring production needs to be mounted again for a longer
run, so that more audiences can enjoy this work.


Thank you, Mindy. Thank you, director Liz and cast. And thank you, producer Robert May and SRT!

Onward!

(all photos by Darren Scott)

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Why I’ll Never Win an Oscar — and Why That’s Okay

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No, I’m not trying reverse psychology so that the powers that be will one day reverse course and give me one.

This is not a lament. There was never an illusion of entitlement. I’m just sharing a series of recent, interconnected revelations that have brought me a lot of peace.

I’m never going to win an Oscar, and in addition to the fact that I’m a far-from-perfect writer who’s still trying to get my ‘big’ works produced, here are the other reasons why it’ll never happen — and why it’s okay: Continue reading

Why the Arts Should Embrace Sports and Sports Should Embrace the Arts

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On days like the Super Bowl, as fun as they are — it’s hard for working/struggling artists not to shake their head, at least a little, about the millions, even billions, of dollars worshipfully spent on sports. It’s hard not to think about all the kids who could get music funded in their inner-city school, or who could be inspired by their first museum or play on a school field trip, with such money, if only a portion were directed to different values and priorities.

But at the same time, for someone like me, who grew up with both the arts (playing violin and acting in plays) and sports (playing softball and watching pro baseball), I can’t help but think about how connected they are, and how rich life is when we embrace both.

“Ars Longa, Vita Brevis” (Art is Long, Life is Short)

The arts represent our vision for life here and beyond; our dreams and destiny; our realities and ideals. They accomplish this with stories and songs, images and characters that capture our world and our lives as nothing else can.

But the arts are not just about the actual stories/images/sounds presented; they are about how our own lives relate — the story, painting or symphony helps us think about our own situations, choices and needs differently. They show us another way to deal with things, just when we thought there was no other way.

“Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” – UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden

Similarly, sports is a performance, with an audience. It’s theater, with its rituals, sights and sounds. It’s often poetry in motion. And at its best, sport is about showing people excellence. Like the arts, sports are never just about sports — they, too, are about the people behind the game: their hearts, minds and characters, their families, illnesses, the challenges they’ve overcome, the way they keep coming back. Sports are about finishing well. And as we watch, we think of our own lives, our own obstacles. A great performance can remind us that we, too, can make it through if we perservere.

Coming Together

At the end of the day, both the arts and sports are about overcoming conflict: both are about man versus antagonistic forces, and how he deals with those forces. How he learns and grows from them, whether there is a victory/happy ending or not. Both take us on a journey where we are eager to find out what happens at the end.

Artists can learn much from the boldness and discipline of professional sportspeople — how hard they work, how they faithfully stick to routines to reach benchmarks of success, how they work within a team and respect their peers and leaders instead of being their own island.

Similarly, athletes and coaches can learn much about themselves and others when they embrace literature, art and music. They can learn how to understand people vastly different from themselves; how to recognize, empathize, and deal with any type of personality or situation; how to encourage a peer with a timeless quote and bring the best out of them — all invaluable assets when you are on a team.

Perhaps that’s also why stories or movies about sports have been so memorable and compelling — because they combine the best of both worlds. John Updike’s essays on Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. Films like Chariots of Fire. Rocky. A League of Their Own. Brian’s Song. Rudy. Name your favorite.

People, ultimately, want to be inspired. They want to see their fellow man/woman at their best, so that they can be reminded of what’s possible for themselves.

Finally, both the arts and sports are about surrendering to something beyond ourselves. Whether we are dedicating ourselves to God, a team, a production, a message, or any big-picture purpose, we are most fully who we were meant to be when we devote ourselves to a purpose larger than our little sphere of life.

The arts and sports both remind us of that.

Onward!

 

Unforgettable Gifts: A Christmas Post, 2015

One of my greatest holiday joys over the years has been the collection of films we’ve enjoyed as a family. These films were part of my moral education growing up and marked our memories, our growth, our life through the years. We still refer to them, quote them and watch them whenever we get together.

So, each year I now blog about these favorite films, adding a couple more each year to the collection that I consider to be true gifts during this season and always.

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Love from the Inside Out

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Hopefully you’ve had a chance to see the wonderful and insightful Pixar film, Inside Out, which premiered in June and is coming out on DVD in early November (already out on Amazon Prime Video).

If you haven’t seen it, feel free to skip this blog. But if you have seen it, I wonder if you might journey with me a bit in this blog post.

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Reflecting on a July 4th Favorite: Yankee Doodle Dandy

Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942 (Through 2:46)

Anyone who knows movies knows that the brass section of the Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra was like no other. Whether scoring a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Bogart film or Errol Flynn swashbuckler, their trumpets are instantly recognizable, and warming to the soul.

Like in Yankee Doodle Dandy, the 1942 James Cagney film that won him an Oscar for Best Actor portraying the song and dance man and Broadway actor/composer/producer, George M. Cohan — who crafted the famous songs Grand Old Flag, Over There, Give My Regards to Broadway, and of course the title song. The above scene is one of the greatest musical dance numbers ever put on film.

Here on this July 4th weekend, hearing those heralding trumpets again, and through all my years, I was reminded how special this film has been to our family in so many ways.

My mother always says that when I was just a toddler, I’d get up on the piano bench during the famous scene above, and I would start dancing with glee on my face.

As a bigger kid, I’d practice and practice this dance routine in the living room or garage and imitate it best I could — as well as the final scene when the elder George dances down the stairs of the White House after receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from FDR:

Then as a pre-teen, I was struck by what a bratty stage kid young George was, and how his arrogance hurt his family’s opportunities on the vaudeville circuit. And yet I loved how wonderfully kind and humble he became later in life, with the right discipline, guidance and wisdom from his family and friends. Strong yet gentle. It made me think of my own parents raising us while juggling so many demands — their example, and Cohan’s, made me want to be a better writer for the stage myself, and a better person.

Later, the film shaped my view of our country, of how art can touch people in times of crisis, and how our personal integrity and loyalty to family are far more important than our success.

And finally, now more than ever, watching it with our daughters, this film reminds me that I’m so grateful for the freedom to live each day that comes our way, to worship God, to celebrate together as family and friends on weekends like this, and to share the truths that matter most with our precious children.

My mother thanks you…

My father thanks you…

My sister thanks you…

And I thank you…

Onward!

What Writing and Parenting Teach Me about God

Being a parent and being a writer have combined to teach me about what I call The Care, The Fair and The Fire – three ideas that God hit me over the head with recently. These ideas have encouraged me to realign how I think of the roles I have.

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