“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.”
“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.