A Review of “On Air”

IMG_3686

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.

IMG_3681

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.

IMG_3679

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.

IMG_3684

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)

Advertisements

What’s in a Name…

ornamnets

The kids and I made ornaments this weekend that I have a feeling will be favorites for a long time.

I saw a lovely and creative Christmas tree recently which, in addition to regular ornaments, had the various names for Jesus/God written on colorful, shaped paper. Simple and powerful words. So we did our own version on our tree this year.

Apparently, there are 100 such names in the Bible, all capturing a different quality or essence of God. Some, especially at this time of year, are very familiar: Immanuel, God with Us, King of Kings.

You can almost hear Handel’s Messiah, where the names soar forth in unison: “Wonderful! Counselor! The Mighty God! The Everlasting Father! The Prince of Peace…”

photo 2

The words are powerful. Christ’s 100 names, given by God, announced by angels and men alike, are a remarkable and comforting reminder of who he is — each one worth reflecting upon; and yet in his case even 100 names cannot capture all of who he is.

The 100 names also make me think of how we, as writers, often agonize over creating a name for the characters in our stories — something that gets their personality just right and subtly reflects their purpose in the story. Or coming up with the title of a work, which captures its spirit and core. So many possibilities…and we don’t want to mess it up. Do-overs are not really an option.

Similarly, I think of parents, carefully reading through name books or making lists to select their baby’s name — something which will be part of their identity for life. We want it to be empowering but not too limiting, right? Does that one sound too heavy? Is this too easy to mispronounce? Too long?

Or when a scientist discovers a cell or a star, a protein or a process; or when an inventor creates a new gadget or patent. What to name the thing that’s going to be one’s legacy? In textbooks and registries for decades to come?!

It’s not easy to name something. Scripture and literature, from Adam to Romeo and beyond, are full of references to the power and burden of names and naming. Maybe if we could have 100 names it would be easier too!

But one thing that all of these situations have in common is that it is a privilege to be the one who gets to name something. Or to title something. It is a heralding, a cementing-in of meaning.

The next time we name or title something, we can remember what a special opportunity it is. The words we choose are not only a reflection of what we are naming — they are a reflection of us as well.

Like the Virginia Woolf quote I saw mentioned on Twitter recently:
“If your life was a book title, what would it be?”

Onward!

your-name-here

Beauty Equals Good: A Beastly Myth, by February Grace (Guest Post)

It is a pleasure to welcome author February Grace to my blog this week for a guest post. I greatly admire her as a person and as a writer (see past blog entry here). Her newest novel, UPON A TIME, debuts this month.

And her perspective, now more than ever, is a meaningful one for all of us. Read her post below:

february grace author photo small

It has bothered me for a very long time that the ‘good’ in people is represented by beauty in most fairy tales and indeed, overall in our culture.

Anyone who is less than perfect or dare I say it, less than gorgeous, is usually portrayed in these stories as being on the wrong side of the fight.

If you’d believe these tales, most disfigured people turn evil and murderous.

Born without perfect looks? Forget it, you’re doomed to evil, or at least to suffering from day one. You will be branded a ‘monster’ (I’m thinking about Quasimodo here…) or worse. Tortured, bullied, humiliated.

It’s a tired old myth that has stayed with me, leading me to ask myself a question not too long ago: what if Prince Charming’s looks were no longer flawless? Would his betrothed (you know, the girl from the ball who lost her shoe) still look at him the same way? How would he cope with the changes in his appearance, himself?

We all know that the Beast was cursed with a change in his appearance because his heart was unkind; but what if a kind-hearted person was suddenly disfigured through no fault of his own?

It happens in the real world, every day.

Continue reading

Five Ways a Writer Can Recharge

file1131343065053

Yes, of course we should write every day, if we’re serious about our profession. But there may be times where we are absolutely depleted. Perhaps we’ve been writing consistently for months or just completed a major deadline with some all-nighters. Perhaps other areas of life are so burdensome that we can’t eke out another word. Whatever might be the circumstances at our desks, or in our lives or hearts, we writers need to recharge once in a while!

Here are five ways a writer can recharge before bounding back into that next big project:

1. STOP.

Stop writing. Yes, it seems risky. Will we ever get back into the groove? I suggest identifying a set amount of time to stop writing. Decide it ahead of time: I’m not going to write today. Or for three days, so I can go away for the weekend. I’m going to take a one-week break. A one-month break. Or whatever you think best for your situation. Whatever you decide, stick to it. Calendar the start and end dates. When that period is over, start writing again.

reading in the library

2. READ.

I am always more prolific as a writer when I’m reading. Even when I’m not writing, my daily reading encourages and motivates me by spurring new ideas, jolting me into a new world or line of thinking, taking me out of myself and my life circumstances. As an additional recharge, read a completely new type of work rather than your normal nightstand fare. If you read novels, try a book of short stories. If you love biography or nonfiction, try reading a play or book of poems instead. If you’re into graphic novels, try historical fiction, and so on. Mix it up. Your brain will be ready for so much more and you will take more creative risks when it’s time to return to the writer’s chair.

file00082076145

3. TRY VISUAL ART.

Our textually-focused writer’s brain gets a breath of fresh air when we get up from the laptop and look at something else — namely, a bit of visual art. Visiting a museum, seeing a film, painting a canvas, taking photographs or sketching a drawing of our own — any of these can keep us in a creative zone while giving us a mental break. When we do something else with our eyes and hands besides being at the computer, new light bulbs can flash on in our heads. I’ve gotten some of my best story ideas while strolling museums.

Continue reading

Onward!

RDHallJohnsonAndre

Welcome to my blog! This is certainly long overdue but I look forward to sharing here with you often about what’s going on in writing, film/theater, faith, culture and community – in my life and in the lives of those I admire!

We just finished screening a short film I adapted and directed, “Reflection Day,” at the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival, as well as the Western New York Black Film Festival.

Reflection Day’s Trailer on IMDB

The film is about Ms. Johnson, an elderly African American woman in a senior home, suffering from Alzheimer’s, who compels her caregiver Andre to ‘take her to vote’ on what she thinks is Election Day, to have peace with her past.  It’s based on the stage play by Chuck Cummings.

Continue reading