Vigilance-- A tale of Friendship and Revenge 

February 8, 2012

By Leslie Katz, San Francisco Examiner

Second Wind Productions has a winner of a show in “Vigilance,” a gripping drama about friendship, modern living, revenge and justice.   The show, onstage at the Phoenix Theatre, is directed by San Francisco playwright Ian Walker, whose deft, realistic dialogue brings his social and political themes to life. Set in 1999 in a small bedroom community in California, the show follows three poker-playing pals – kind, straight-laced Dick, loud, opinionated Virgil, and mild-mannered Bert – and their plan to threaten a menacing neighbor who has been terrorizing their wives and kids, doing things such as driving wildly and exposing himself. Despite, or maybe because, they are friends with the local sheriff Frank (Leon Goertzen), the men decide to arm themselves and deal with their rage against Duncan outside the confines ofthe law. Coloring their decisions are their imperfect relationships with their wives: Cathy (Kim Stephenson), who is under-employed and needs something more from Dick, and Marla (Natalie Palan Walker), who isn’t thrilled that Virgil isn’t working. Even though the show’s tag line – “revenge is best served hot” – suggests a simplistic plot about getting justice at any cost, “Vigilance” offers more. It’s a thought-provoking, substantive examination of contemporary problems. Humor is peppered throughout the drama, which Walker cleverly stages on a set depicting a kitchen and living room that simultaneously represents the interior of both couples’ homes. Watching the characters mill in and out of the houses is fun and it’s easy to tell who belongs where; the theatrical device adds to the show’s appeal. 

The actors, handling Walker’s occasionally dense verbiage, are uniformly convincing. Stephen Muterspaugh as the sedate Dick, Ben Ortega as the jittery Bert, and especially Mike Newman as the ring-leading, fast-talking, brash Virgil, reveal a spectrum of human viewpoints, strengths and insecurities. 

 Ian Walker's 'Vigilance' explores vigilantism with intelligently disturbing drama 

February 5, 2012

By Charles Kruger, /

New neighbor Duncan (Steven Westdahl) is a living nightmare.

After winning an upscale home in a raffle, he moves in and proceeds to trash the neighborhood. His behavior is as bad as you can imagine: he dumps trash everywhere, makes physical threats, nearly causes a fatal automobile accident and even exposes himself to his neighbor’s eight year old daughter.

It seems that the local sheriff is ineffective in curbing this behavior. Clearly, something must be done and Virgil is the man to do it. The sort of man who is prepared to take things into his own hands, Virgil (Mike Newman) organizes his neighbors into a committee to confront the newcomer at gunpoint. The confrontation goes badly when Duncan laughs in their faces (after taking some incriminating photographs) and they withdraw in confusion. When Duncan is shot and killed in his yard early the following morning, the drama escalates. Was he killed by one of the vigilante committee? If so, who? Was it justifiable homicide? Playwright and director Ian Walker makes the most of this material, developing perspectives on all sides and giving us characters with complex back stories and full emotional lives. By keeping the arguments well grounded in their actual histories and circumstances, he avoids becoming polemical and gives us a satisfying drama offering plenty of food for thought. The ensemble is excellent, and Walker gives them great stuff to work with. In the course of the play, each character provides successive well-motivated revelations, never gratuitous. This is a remarkably well-written piece. Mike Newman as Virgil and Natalie Palan Walker as his wife, Marla, present a complicated marriage with many facets. Steven Westdahl as Duncan succeeds in humanizing and garnering empathy for a character who at first appears wholly unsympathetic. Leon Goertzen, Ben Ortega, Kim Stephenson and Stephen Muterspaugh each provide performances of depth and subtlety. Playwright Ian Walker, a founding member of Second Wind Theatre, is a writer of impressive political and psychological sensibility, unafraid to tackle large themes and with the skills to do it right. 

If you care about new theatre, you will certainly find that this is a company and a playwright to watch. Their reputation will only continue to grow.


February 12, 2012

By Rob Avila, San Francisco Bay Guardian

Ian Walker (The Tender King) directs a sharp revival of his own lucid, involving 2000 domestic drama about three households brought to the brink by the arrival of a menacing working-class loner.

Seamlessly staged in a single pair of rooms (designed by Fred Sharkey) representing all three suburban middle-class homes — as well as downstage on the street where dream-home lottery winner Duncan (an imposing Steven Westdahl) throws his beer cans and leers at the wives and children — Vigilance begins with three friends meeting under the pretext of a poker game. Host Virgil (played with gruff charm by a commanding Mike Newman) is a 30-something husband, father, and guy's guy whose Montana-grown libertarian machismo compensates for the agro of a stormy marriage and rocky finances. He talks the suggestible, nebbishy Bert (a slyly humorous Ben Ortega) and the equally nerdy but independent-minded Dick (a nicely layered Stephen Muterspaugh) into forming a "committee" to deal with the troublesome Duncan.

Walker's well-honed dialogue brings out the false notes in the supposed pre-Duncan harmony right away, especially in the volatile arguments between Virgil and wife Marla (a sure Natalie Palan Walker) and the passive but more troubled confrontations between Dick and his distant, frustrated wife Cathy (a subtly fraught Kim Stephenson). While the insular, repressed lives of the moderately well off come across well, Duncan's final monologue is a compressed, if dramatically necessary, attempt at voicing the other side. Vigilance strikes best at the buried politics of marriage and friendship, the latter further invoked in the concerned intervention of cop and childhood friend Frank (a sympathetic Leon Goertzen). (Avila)

Second Wind Presents Thought-Provoking Premiere of Ian Walker's "The Tender King 

December 10, 2010

By Charles Kruger,

We know that war is hell. In times of war, including our present "war on terror", terrible things happen: torture, civilian deaths, murders, bombings, rapes, betrayals, the whole Pandora's Box of human evil.

There are times, under the hypnotic spell of patriotism (that last refuge of scoundrels), that acts of war can appear to many as noble, righteous and necessary. Patriots in our nation and elsewhere have defended torture, murder and mayhem, and will continue to do so.In his new play, Mr. Walker deals with these themes in an imaginative exploration of the circumstances surrounding the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

Set in Berlin after the German surrender, Mr. Walker imagines an encounter between President Harry Truman (Brian O'Connor) and an enthusiastic young officer named "Will" (Stephen Muterspaugh) in which the moral implications of this act of war are discussed. In Walker's version, President Truman is resistant to dropping the bomb, fully cognizant of its horrendous nature and doubtful of its necessity, while young Will is determined to persuade the President to give the order.

The scenes between Truman and Will are contrasted with another set of scenes between Will and a German-French prostitute, Mel (Natalie Palan), with whom he may or may not be in love, as they explore issues of intimacy, loyalty, necessity and evil.Mr. Walker has based his play upon a careful review of the facts. The theatre provides, with the program and online, extensive dramaturgical notes detailing the historical basis for various assertions madeDespite the careful research, however, this is not really an historical play, but a fantasy. The characters "Will", the Prostitute and the President are archetypal figures, somewhat cartoonish, like characters in a graphic novel. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The clear, simplified but effective arguments presented make for compelling drama.

The three actors do an excellent job with characters that are largely mouthpieces for various viewpoints. Mr. O'Connor is superb in his rendition of Truman's midwestern manner and dry humor. Mr. Muterspaugh is convincingly chilling as the young Will. The outstanding performance of this production is that of Natalie Palan as Mel, who brings gifts of startling physical beauty, a superb vocal technique (her mixed German/French accent is strikingly successful), free emotional expression and sharp intelligence to her role. This is an actress who deserves a following.

The structure of the play bounces back and forth between scenes of Will and the President, then Will and Mel. With each shift, a distracting stage hand establishes the changed locale with the placement or removal of a chair for the President. I believe the play would have been better served structured in two contrasting two-character acts. This production is a world premiere and no doubt there will be many subtle and perhaps not-so-subtle changes as playwright Walker continues to work on it.

For fans of intellectual historical drama, this is a show worth seeing. This weekend (tonight and tomorrow night) is a final opportunity.  


San Francisco Bay Guardian: 

November 24, 2010

By Rob Avila

The current firestorm over leaked diplomatic cables and exposed government lies and imperial machinations are nothing new in The Tender King. Second Wind's debut of Bay Area playwright Ian Walker's new drama takes audiences back to 1945, a critical period in the structuring of the postwar world as dominated ever since by the American Empire. Walker explores the tensions and contradictions attendant on the countdown to American global hegemony in three characters, two rooms, and one fateful decision. President Harry Truman (Brian O'Connor), newly ensconced in office after FDR's death, sits drinking in a darkened room (mood-inducing lighting by Rob Siemens) as an ambitious young functionary named Will (Stephen Muterspaugh) arrives to get his John Hancock on the order to drop the new A Bomb on two Japanese cities. In shades of Schiller's Mary Stuart, Truman delays and evades cunningly, filled with the exuberant knowledge and burden of power. Meanwhile, a semi-romantic, semi-sadistic relationship between Will and a French-German prostitute (Natalie Palan) unfolds in a parallel scene—a complex echo of the shock-doctrine advantage Will advocates to Truman in the face of a stunned and helpless European population. Directed by Walker, the production relies not ineffectively on heightened vernacular language and performances, although the latter while sturdy can feel more rote than in-the-moment, and the neat narrative framework and effervescent dialogue strays into formulaic conceits. Nevertheless, the play's well-researched and articulated detail as well as forceful conviction make it both worthwhile and generally engaging—not to mention as politically au courant as anything on stage just now. (Avila)

Gravedigger's Tango Delves 

Monday, July 15, 2007

By Leslie Katz, San Francisco Examiner

SAN FRANCISCO (Map, News) - A fierce champion of the San Francisco theater scene, playwright, director and actor Ian Walker is keeping it invigorated with the premiere of “The Gravedigger’s Tango,” running at Traveling Jewish Theatre through the end of the month.

It’s easy to understand why Walker has won awards for his work. A cool literary mystery, “The Gravedigger’s Tango” cleverly tells the intersecting stories of a couple of cemetery workers and the people responsible for an undated grave with the epitaph: “Not one but two hearts lie below/ Beyond the reach of all we know/ Pray be silent and do not stir/ Till I find my way back to her.”

While unraveling the mystery of the grave marking is perhaps the most exciting element of the show, the admittedly spare Second Wind Productions presentation boasts food for thought on many levels; Walker, who also directs, explores fascinating philosophical themes and imbues his characters with passion and points of view.

Overseeing the graveyard is caretaker Laszlo (Doug Thornburg), a belligerent yet poetic fellow who, if nothing else, respects the sanctity of the site, which likely will be destroyed by a new highway coming through.

Laszlo is joined by Pip (Kathryn Tkel), who, at first, is simply there to make money as a gravedigger. But Pip, whose home life with Patrick (Joseph Rende) is unsettled at best, becomes caught up as Laszo tells what he knows about the grave’s inhabitant. The Englishwoman was named Isabella Ashecombe (Natalie Palan), and the man who grieved for her, Alexander Charon (Ryan Tasker).Scenes fluidly alternate among those in the graveyard, in Pip’s apartment, and in England, where, with Laszlo and Pip watching, Alexander meets Isabella — and becomes dangerously entangled with her family.

The story instantly sucks the viewer in: Alexander, a young, idealistic doctor, meets an older physician, Geoffrey Pockworth (Brian O’Connor), on a train in the English Moors. But was their meeting chance? Due to circumstances beyond his control, Alexander is forced to go with Pockworth to the Ashecombe estate, where he’s instantly attracted to Isabella, and finds that her elderly father is, and has been, in a near-death state. Alexander’s ethics are challenged when asked to consider the prospect of ending the man’s life; the situation is exacerbated by Isabella’s over-the-top, angry brother Thomas (Tony Johnston).

Their stories unfold with intensity in the engaging drama.

What’s missing from this production of “The Gravedigger’s Tango” are beefier, possibly more creative, production values that really capture the eeriness permeating through the play. Realizing that Second Wind and similar small companies have limited resources, it may seem an undoable task. But with such committed actors and a classy script, “The Gravedigger’s Tango” deserves a physical setting that’s as lively as its spirit.



 Love Among the Graves

by Nirmala Nataraj, San Francisco Bay Guaridan

Ian Walker, who's considered one of the Bay Area's most promising emerging playwrights, starts his play, The Gravedigger's Tango, with what would appear to augur a darkly comedic plot all the way through. A man named Trick, a cow-tipping, trailer-trash sort, is set to exhume a bunch of graves but comes face to face with the sinister, club-wielding cemetery caretaker, Laszlo, in the process. A midnight confrontation between a redneck and a creepy custodian seems like enough material on its own for a lighthearted farce, but Walker isn't about meeting superficial audience expectations. The play offers an intricate triptych of three stories -- that of Laszlo and Trick (who's actually Trick's girlfriend in disguise); of the real Trick and his girlfriend Claire; and of the dead Isabella, whose star-crossed tale of love with a doctor begins in a windswept region of the English moors. The tropes seem unmistakably Shakespearean, what with the intertwining tales, graveyard revelations, and gender-bending, but Walker's keen sensitivity to relationships and the powerful manner in which he excavates issues like mortality and euthanasia ground the play in the realm of the distinctly modern. 

Read the original review here.





A Beautiful Home for the Incurable 


Thursday, July 23, 2006

By Linda Ayres-Frederick
It isn’t often that you go to the theatre and have nothing to complain about. It’s even less often that you go and find yourself completely engaged in the story, laughing out loud and feeling like you sure are glad you got there, and you want to tell everyone you know that they have something delightful to put at the top of their “fun things to do this weekend” list!

Well, it finally happened, and it’s happening right now in Second Wind Production’s A Beautiful Home for the Incurable, playing at Traveling Jewish Theatre. Written and directed by Ian Walker, A Beautiful Home has just the right ingredients for a zany, well-crafted hit: terrifically delineated off-the-wall characters, perfectly portrayed by competent, emotionally-present actors, funny dialogue (yet not so clever that it’s unbelievable), a believable story line, an empathetic hero you care about who is different at the end of the tale after going through events that cause him to change, and (hold onto your hats) a beginning, middle, and end. Oh my! Have we struck an artistic mother lode here or what?

Bunny Temple, our hero, is an agoraphobe (won’t go outside) living in New York. Each week, he organizes a get-together of his friends: Lucy, a narcoleptic (when excited, falls into a state where her body is inert, but her mind is awake); Madilyn, a transient global (that means temporary) amnesiac (forgets she’s had sex); and Nick, an apraxic (cannot perform purposeful movements). And you thought your friends were weird! When they discover that Bunny is the victim of identity theft and about to be expelled from his home, the four decide to find the thief for themselves, relying on a trail of credit card slips to “re-create the man.” It’s amazing what one can learn about someone from what they buy over the internet.
While A Beautiful Home explores the issue of powerlessness through the eyes of four unique individuals who are relegated to the sidelines of society by their illnesses, it also offers a thoughtful examination of identity in the modern world, and the struggle many people face to free themselves from media images and preconceptions about beauty and self-worth. While often hilarious, A Beautiful Home shows us the shared wounds that create one’s personal identity, and therein lies the power of the piece.

Sitting in the dark with Madilyn, Bunny talks of those moments taken from everyone: “By what we’re afraid of… stolen by microwaves and fast-food, all these things that are supposed to make life easier, to save us time. That fast forward us to the moment we think we want. They’re just shortcuts. But maybe we’re skipping over all the important parts.” Pretty good for someone whose identity has been stolen.

We do get to meet the culprit! Showing up on the ruse of conducting a survey, the usurping Bunny, referred to as Temple, is a complete insult to humanity which is all the more annoying to our endearing Bunny. Not that Temple doesn’t have a good back story. Spit out by a failing dot-com, the thieving fellow has turned his bitterness into an aggressive act. And the “phobes,” working together, have a challenge to overpower this bitter Temple.

The ensemble includes Andrew Calabrese as Nick, Durand Ford as Temple, Mary McGloin as Lucy, Eloisa Ramos as Madilyn, and Timothy Redmond as Bunny. They are all well cast, don’t miss a beat, and are delightful to watch. Fred Sharkey’s set with odd-ball geometrically-shaped cut-out walls adds to the visual enjoyment as does Rob Siemens’ spot-on sound design.  A Beautiful Home for the Incurable — you simply must see this Must See!!

An online version of the original review is available here.

Pear Avenue's "Incurable" Engaging 

The Pear Avenue Theatre in Mountain View is gaining reputation as a venue for quality plays and as a gateway for newer, unproduced works.  As a result, some of the best performers in the Bay Area are drawn to this small, unpretentious, 40 seat theater.

The theater is premiereing a new work, "A Beautiful Home for the Incurable" by Ian Walker.  This warm, loving comedy is a trbute to those who fall through society's cracks, the social misfits who live invisibly outside of the mainstream.

It is a well-constructed play about four dysfunctional friends who group together to outwit a very clever identity theif.

Driven by frustration and greed, a victim of the collapse, Bernard Temple (Michael Sofaer), steals the identity of another with the same name and goes on a buying rampage.

His theft had  been simplified because he was able to invade the computer of the other Temple, nicknamed Bunny (Eric Rice), who suffers from agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces.  He never leaves his New York City apartment and conducts all of his business on the PC.

Bunny has three co-dependent friends who meet with him once a week.  Nick (Bill D'Agostino) has a condition that impairs his physical movements.  Madeline (Shannon Stowe) is an occasional amnesiac who is liable to tell fibs in conversation.  Lucy (Kristen Lo) is a narcoleptic, falling asleep at any moment, who dreams of buying a home so they can all live together.

When the other three discover that Temple has rendered Bunny virtually penniless, and his is in danger of losing his only shelter, they swing into action to ensnare Temple in his own web of deceit.

This is a very engaging comedy, written by one who is wise to the world of the dysfunctional and disadvantaged.

There is no maudlin appeal for sympathy.  All are independent within the confines of their psychological and physical disabilities.  The dialogue sparkles as all of the eccentricities of these special people are given an outlet and are woven into a tapestry of warm, loving, and true friends.

Director Jeanie Forte pulled together a first-rate, audience winning cast.  As Bunny, Rice projects a persona controlled by effort but interrupted intermittently by panic and mania. 

As his nemesis, Temple, Sofaer is cunningly confident in his evil doings.

Stowe and Lo merge their strengths to push Bunny toward a freer future.

In this excellent cast, D'Agnostino almost steals the show as effete, self-indulgent, prejudiced Nick.

Walker is an accomplished playwright with a number of successes already under his belt.  This one is a winner.

   ~ Keith Kreitman is a freelance writer with The Oakland Tribune.  An online version of the original review can be found here.

'Incurable' optimists: Gentle comedy at Montclair's Luna does not mock the Afflicted

 Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

Put an agoraphobe, an apraxiac, a narcoleptic and a transient global amnesiac in a room together, and what do you have?  Surprisingly enough, a pretty tender play: "A Beautiful Home for the Incurable," now at Luna Stage Company in Montclair.

Playwright Ian Walker's greatest achievement in this new gentle comedy is treating his characters with sympathy and dignity. Many a lesser writer would have mined trouble-plagued people for cheap laughs. Walker, though, makes them into an endearing group of friends that-- with one exception -- are quite supportive of each other. The show takes place in Bernard "Bunny" Temple's apartment -- replete with five locks on the door. He's the agoraphobe, but he likes to entertain in his home, even if narcoleptic Lucy suddenly falls asleep (and on the floor) in the middle of a conversation.  Bunny even puts up with nasty Nick, who's quick to tell his host that agoraphobia is a genuine mental illness, while he and Lucy are simply afflicted with conditions their bodies can't control. Nick's problem is apraxia, which means he can't quite predict what his next move will be. Though he may want to shake hands, he's just as likely to pick up his leg and offer his foot instead.

Today there's a new visitor: Madilyn, who is sharing an Internet relationship with Bunny. She's the one with transient global amnesia -- meaning that she easily forgets information from time to time.  So when Bunny's plain life is threatened by a man who has stolen his identity and has been charging on his credit cards, all vow to fight. Alas, Madilyn has a tough time concentrating, and Lucy has difficulty staying awake. Nick, though,relishes the challenge, and is ready to do battle. Can this afflicted group overtake a sharp, menacing white-collar criminal?  It's a lightweight little farce, but it makes a point that in these complicated times, one just can't stick his head in the sand and call it a life. People can work at conquering their fears, and any effort is a victory in itself. 

Much credit goes to director Paul Whelihan, for he came in at the last minute to stage the show when the original director left over artistic differences.  Inheriting a cast isn't easy for a director, but Whelihan has seen that every one of his actors gives a substantial performance.  Erik Kever Ryle makes Bunny borderline nerdy, with curly locks that look as if they're clenched tight. His endearing smile, though, helps an audience to care

about him.  Dawn Luebbe is a comic find as the gangly Lucy, who can make her long, giraffe-like neck thrust out to a genuine 45-degree angle. Costume designer Chelsea Harriman has dressed her in a riotous array of colors, which helps define the character's eccentricities.  What a lovely performance Anne Connolly gives as the bubbly Madilyn. Connolly has a matter-of- fact nature that draws in an audience. She doesn't make her character flashy, but she certainly makes her seem real.  David Sitler is appropriately gruff as Nick, and Brian Townes has marvelous Mephistophelan menace as the identity thief. 

Though no set designer is credited, the nicely appointed apartment has a charming detail for an agoraphobe: A sampler that reads, "There's no place like home." There's no play quite like the winsome and well-intentioned "A Beautiful Home for the Incurable," either.

(reproduced by permission,


A Sweet Theatrical Treat at the Pear

The Pear Avenue Theatre is small to be sure. The 40-seat playhouse is so tiny that to go to the bathroom during a play you must cross the stage, and when you finally get there, you find a sign above the toilet requesting that you not flush during the performance.

But the theater's size is also its strength, and the intimate environment of The Pear is the perfect setting for Ian Walker's outstanding new comedy "A Beautiful Home for the Incurable," directed by Jeanie Forte.

The play, the final one of The Pear's second season, stars four friends with uncommon mental ailments who comprise a sort of support group, leaning on one another for advice and help. When agoraphobic Bunny (Eric Rice) reveals that his identity has been stolen on the Internet and the thief has made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars, the group joins forces to find the culprit.

The first and last scenes are, without a doubt, the funniest parts of the play. The characters do not stand well on their own, but when the entire ensemble is together, the result is nothing less than side-splitting. Bunny's frantic manner of speech and choppy gesturing is amusing, Temple (Michael Sofaer) has an almost humorous annoying quality and Madilyn (Shannon Stowe) has some great comedic moments, but Nick (Bill D'Agostino) and Lucy (Kristen Lo) steal the show. The dry, sarcastic wit of D'Agostino (a writer at the Voice's sister paper, the Palo Alto Weekly) contrasts perfectly with bubbly and spirited Lo.

Yet there is another, more tender, sweet side to this story. The play is only about mental illness and identity theft on the surface; beneath this exterior you find questions about the definition of normal, the powerlessness of those who find themselves on the fringes of society, and the struggles we all face with self-identity.

Ultimately, I left the theater with a greater appreciation for the difficulties people outside the mainstream face every day, be it mental, political or economic. And clocking in at under two hours, including a 15-minute intermission, "A Beautiful Home for the Incurable" manages to provoke interesting questions without losing the audience's attention. The clever ending is sure to leave you smiling and looking forward to The Pear's next season.

E-mail David Herbert at



The Stone Trilogy:  Reviews

Ghost in the Light:  Reviews

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The original reviews for The Stone Trilogy and Ghost in the Light can be found at: