The Journey of “Radioman”

“This play is so important. I’ve never read anything like this.”

“Same shit, different war”

“My father. My uncle. My sister.”

“You gotta get through it somehow.”

“It’s a tense time right now.”

“It ain’t just a woodworking shop.”

“PTSD.”

“You gave words to something I experience every day.”

“I feel this enormous weight.”

“Thanks for laughing occasionally.”

“That was a good cold reading.”

“Damn, honestly? I’m gonna go have drinks.”

“I’m Eric Hollenbeck. I was the radioman.”

Pieces of conversation sail across a hot room during the second reading of Radioman, a visceral monologue-style play born from the poetry of Vietnam combat veteran and Eureka native Eric Hollenbeck. The reading is at Art Share, a hip and grungy multifunctional space in downtown Los Angeles’ freshly gentrified Arts District. Graffiti litters the neighborhood; spray paint color blooms along streets and sidewalks and across brick walls reaching up to the blue Southern California sky.

The play’s director, assistant director, writer, producers and publicist are assembled, along with eight actors and a collection of folks from theater companies engaged in this wildly collaborative production. After a flurry of introductions, everyone gathers around big tables pulled into a circle.

Recently transplanted New York playwright James McManus checks in with the actors. Unlike other readings, in which a script is rehearsed ahead of time, this is a cold read. McManus says this way he can hear the imperfections in his writing. “Sometimes,” he says, “the actors are so good that they can make bad writing sound OK.”

McManus explains how he wants the different verses of the monologues to go down. He has merged Hollenbeck’s poems with stories from other war veterans. The result is a series of biting, dialect-heavy monologues punctuated with refrains and one-liner conversations that come like a rapid fire ping pong match. He slaps the table with a flat palm, urging the actors to dig in and find the cadence to his writing.

“Read them one line after another after another on top of each other as much as possible,” he says. “Do the best you can, then go ahead and let that fly.”

The monologues begin with the radioman — Eric Hollenbeck — in the jungle in Vietnam smoking a cigarette and cradling a dead soldier’s leg. The piece then takes off into the wilds of the human war experience, from Vietnam until now. The actors read in turn. Soon they pick up the gritty, thumping rhythm of McManus’ words. There is ache, anger, grief and humor. There’s also hope. It’s almost musical at times, as voices echo along the brick hallways of the old industrial building.

Read the full article from the North Coast Journal of Politics, People, and Art here.

Review: In ‘1980 (Or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson),’ cold-calling for a loser

“1980 (Or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson)” at Jackalope Theatre, with Hillary Horvath and Bryce Gangel.

Did you vote for John B. Anderson in 1980?

If you were of age and followed the advice of this newspaper, which endorsed the moderate congressman from Illinois in the Republican primary over Ronald Reagan, you would have placed your trust in the man the Tribune said “best represents the qualities needed to win nomination and election — and having won those to be a strong, effective president.”

But Anderson lost that primary to Reagan and ran instead as an independent candidate, a move too quixotic for the Tribune, which subsequently offered its then-customary support for the Republican nominee, in this case the governor of California. Anderson started strong in the general election but tanked. He eventually got less than 7 percent of the vote.

So what was it like working in one of his campaign offices?

That’s the question posed by “1980 (Or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson),” a highly enjoyable and mercifully unpredictable world-premiere play by the experienced scribe Patricia Cotter, open now for voting at the Jackalope Theatre on Chicago’s North Side. On one level, “1980” is a bit like a sitcom of losers, a kind of “Superior Donuts” or a “Parks and Rec,” only set in a regional Boston office of a failing indie campaign.

You have Brenda (Evelyn Gaynor), the tough office manager with the rough personal life; Robin (Bryce Gangel), the fickle Ivy League slummer; and Kathleen (Hillary Horvath), the naive Southie intern who hates cold-calling but whose coming-of-age story is at the heart of the show. And then there’s Will (Sheldon Brown), the man sent from Chicago by Anderson himself to beef up the Boston operations. A forlorn hope, as it turns out, although he does come to better know himself.

Some of the fun here — and this play really is a good time, especially for political junkies — comes from some “Mad Men”-style anachronistic throwbacks to 1980s mores, replete with Kathleen as the Peggy Olson of the story. But although I think the piece still needs more narrative drive, Cotter is also writing about race and gender in the early 1980s and the era’s mostly flailing attempts to create viable coalitions that might one day stand up to the white male establishment. It’s actually quite a hopeful play, despite its setting amid failure.

All of the performances are strong and generous in director Kaiser Ahmed’s carefully toned production, a zippy show that embraces farce but also personal truth. But the piece belongs to the superb Horvath, who is both very funny as she droops around the office and, as all hope vanishes, exceptionally poignant.

The credo of the office: “Most polls say that if people believe John Anderson can win, he will win.” You don’t doubt the truth of that inconvenient paradox, the Achilles’ heel of every third-party candidate. But it is Horvath’s Kathleen, the character who appears to know the least, who actually knows the most about Anderson’s inevitable doom after she finally sees the candidate. “He looked so boring,” she says, “as if he was in black and white and the rest of the world in color.”

Enter Reagan and a sunrise and the future.

Review: “1980 (Or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson)”
When: Through Dec. 2
Where: Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Tickets: $5-$30 at www.jackalopetheatre.org

Read the full article from the Chicago Tribune here.

Solo performance illuminates Magic’s ‘Eva Trilogy’

Julia McNeal is excellent in the first play of Magic Theatre’s premiere “The Eva Trilogy.”

“Eden,” the beautiful, poetic first play in Barbara Hammond’s “The Eva Trilogy,” is entirely a soliloquy, delivered on a bare stage—the purest form of theater.

And, as directed by Loretta Greco in this Magic Theatre world premiere, and performed by the luminous Julia McNeal, it is engaging from start to finish.

In it, Eva, an Irishwoman in her late 30s, sits on the stoop of her sister’s house in a seaside village, talking to herself in a seamless stream-of-consciousness that evokes James Joyce’s Molly Bloom, or Dylan Thomas’ poetry.

Eva is awaiting the arrival of the hospice worker who will relieve her, temporarily, of caring for her aged mother, who’s upstairs in bed slowly dying, in great agony, of Parkinson’s. Or so we’re meant to think, at first.

Eva left Ireland decades ago for glorious Paris; her mother now lives here, cared for by Eva’s sister and her sister’s husband, who’ve asked Eva to fill in while they take a brief vacation.

For Eva, desperate to return to Paris, this long moment on the stoop leads her to muse over her past: her childhood as one of seven siblings with a sick father and rigid Mum, youthful sexual escapades, the Catholic upbringing she’s trying to escape, her travels, a miscarriage, her regrets, her pleasures. McNeal brings it all to vibrant life.

The end of “Eden” is disturbing, unexpected yet inevitable.

But just as “Eden” is simple and eloquent and full of the rough texture of life as we live it, the following two short plays in the trilogy (the three comprise one full evening’s performance), which are slightly surreal at times, are unconvincing.

In “Enter the Roar,” set a month later, we meet the three other characters plus the conflicted family priest. As written, it’s a purposefully chaotic part of Eva’s story, a roar indeed, but it’s so stagey and over-acted that it’s hard to sort out the strands of Hammond’s deeply existential themes.

Thirty years later, in “No Coast Road,” Eva has become a hermit in remote Corsica; a young American hiker (Caleb Cabrera) stumbles upon her campsite. But Hammond’s Eva of “Eden” is now a cliché of a feisty, eccentric elder (no fault of actress or director), and the flirty-contentious relationship between young man and crone feels artificial, the contrivance of a young playwright.

A plus, though: the gorgeous pastoral set and projections by Hana S. Kim.

REVIEW

The Eva Trilogy
Presented by Magic Theatre
Where: Fort Mason, Building D, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 12
Tickets: $35 to $80
Contact: (415) 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org

Read the full review from the San Francisco Examiner here.

Why Playwright Barbara Hammond Is on the Cusp of Something Big

The writer behind Magic Theatre’s Eva Trilogy steps into the spotlight.

Barbara Hammond wants you to call your mom. At least that’s one takeaway from her latest work, The Eva Trilogy, premiering this fall at Magic Theatre. The production is conceived as a triptych of plays, performed in sequence—first Eden, then Enter the Road, and last No Coast Road—that together tell the story of an Irish expat, Eva, who finds herself thrown back into family crisis after a soul-searching stint in Paris.

Like her heroine, Hammond is a daughter of Ireland, though she now lives stateside. The work was inspired by Saint Patrick’s Day readings of the rambling Molly Bloom soliloquy from Ulysses with her Irish literary group in New York. After that, Hammond, whose own mother became terminally ill during her writing process, says, Eva “really did start spilling out of me in a way that no other play of mine has done.”

Hammond may not yet be a familiar name, but expect that to change. Her film, June Weddings, was a director’s award winner at the 2013 SF Shorts festival, and her last staged work, We Are Pussy RiotorEverything Is P.R., was staged in Seattle this summer. She was a resident at the New Dramatists playwriting lab alongside Taylor Mac, which put her on Magic Theatre artistic director Loretta Greco’s radar. “When I finally met her in person, I think the first thing I blurted out was ‘I don’t know why you aren’t famous,’” Greco says. “And I mean that.”

Famous, perhaps, in time. But a crowd-pleaser? That’s harder to say. “The play isn’t for people to say, ‘Oh, I enjoyed it,’” Hammond says. “It’s for them to go home thinking about whether they like themselves.” And maybe to remember to call Mom.
Oct. 19–Nov. 12

Read more from San Francisco Magazine here.

In ‘Runaway Home’ at the Fountain Theatre, hurricane-battered lives hang in the balance

Camille Spirlin, left, and Maya Lynne Robinson in “Runaway Home” at the Fountain Theatre in L.A. (Ed Krieger)

Jeremy J. Kamps‘ play “Runaway Home,” now premiering at the Fountain Theatre, is set in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward three years after Hurricane Katrina. The waters may have long receded, but the residents still wander like ghosts through the wreckage of their lives.

Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s set is heaped with piles of debris, once-cherished items now good for nothing but reminding people of what they’ve lost. A half-senile local, Mr. Dee (Jeris Poindexter), notes that his wife’s prized ”Sunday wig” is a ratty-looking horror lying atop a heap of boxes.

The play’s 14-year-old protagonist, Kali (Camille Spirlin), introduces herself to the audience in a lively rhyming soliloquy as she picks through the junk. A precocious kid with a rebellious attitude and a gift for words, Kali is still mourning her grandmother, who died during the hurricane. She and her mother just moved back to their ruined house after three years in Baton Rouge, but they haven’t been getting along. Things are so bad between them that Kali is running away with nothing but her backpack and an old twirling baton.

She isn’t on the road for long when she’s caught stealing from a bodega by its owner, Armando (Armando Rey), an immigrant struggling to earn the money to bring his two daughters from Mexico. Against his better judgment, softhearted Armando takes a liking to the sassy, pugnacious Kali. She talks him into hiring her to sweep the store, and within days he has given her a set of keys.

“I got a feeling you already are,” Lone Wolf replies.

Lone Wolf also teaches Kali a new way to think about stealing — “liberating” things from the capitalist machine — and she takes it upon herself to liberate a gun. “Just in case my historical moment presents itself,” she ominously explains.

Meanwhile, Kali’s mother, Eunice (Maya Lynne Robinson), sits at home wondering where Kali has gone and whether she should bother to look for her. When Eunice’s no-good, charismatic former fiance, Tat (Leith Burke), tracks her down and tries to sweet-talk her into a reunion, she is briefly tempted — then recovers her maternal instincts and sets out to find her “demon child” instead.

Kamps has a way with dialogue and the Louisiana patois, and under Shirley Jo Finney’s sensitive direction, the actors inhabit their characters with endearing naturalism, even during the expressionistic, poetic interludes. Their conversations are so entertaining that they frequently mask the clanking and grinding of the plot’s gears, at least until the implausible, puzzling denouement.

If its story line is still a bit murky, “Runaway Home” conveys a poignant sense of the human suffering that follows a natural disaster — long after the cameras have stopped rolling and the world has turned its attention elsewhere.

Read the full article from the Los Angeles Times here.

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‘Runaway Home’

Where: Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.

Where: 8 p.m. Mondays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends Nov. 5

Tickets: $20-$40

Info: (323) 663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes