Ian Walker

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Columbus State theater students dig taking first steps of 'Tango'

Staff Writer

It's difficult to describe "The Gravedigger's Tango."

But Joseph Corbin, a 20-year-old sophomore performance major from Gainesville, Ga., puts it simply: "Ultimately, the play is about love."

It's still not so simple.

There are flashbacks written into the play and several storylines that are woven together.

• There's the story of Laszlo (Corbin), the caretaker of the cemetery. He has to deal with Trick, who is described as "a scrappy young trailer trash boy," who is hired to exhume several graves. Laszlo is the narrator of the play.

• There's the real story about Trick (played by 19-year-old sophomore performance major Sam Hughes of Austin, Texas).

• And then there's the story of the exhumed woman, Isabella (played by sophomore performance major Lindsay Hand of Valdosta, Ga.), and her relationship with a young doctor (Evan Fricks, junior performance major from Hiram, Ga.).

• Oh, and the play takes place in England and America, so some of the young theater majors have to struggle with capturing an accent.

The play is written by Ian Walker, a playwright who lives in San Francisco. His plays include "Killing Time," "Black Lies," "Vigilance," "Ghost in the Night," "The Stone Trilogy" and "A Beautiful Home for the Incurable."

"In truth," Walker says, " 'The Gravedigger's Tango' can be very simply distilled: A young, wayward person meets an older hermit who spins a tale that inspires and enlightens. But that simplification misses the mark in so many ways."

Walker says the play explores two important issues today: "how the advancing technology of medicine is extending life, and reversely, the morality of physician-assisted suicide."


Starting from scratch

Because this is a brand new play, Hand thinks there is less stress involved. "I can invent the character myself," she said.

Jeremiah Hobbs, a freshman performance major from Newnan, agrees. "It's exciting because you don't have anyone else's performance to go off on. Everything is fresh and new."

Freshman theater education major Nicholas Wolfe of Forsyth County, Ga., reluctantly compares being in a new play to being in the World Series.

"It's an actor's dream to open a show," he said, comparing it to a baseball player's dream to play in the Series. "I'm honored to be part of this."

"I feel the same way," Hughes said. "Joseph and I were in 'Seagulls in a Cherry Tree' last year (the first Larry Corse International Playwriting Prize winner). I feel honored. It will be the first time people will see this show. And you can make a lasting impression. I think it's a great challenge for an actor."

Fricks calls it a dream experience.


Playwright to watch

It's directed by associate professor Becky Becker, who began her first year at CSU in September.

"I think the cast is great," she said. "I chose well."

She was told about the play about a year ago and got the script "almost right after I accepted the position."

Becker read the play, but then had to cast it aside for a while. "Then I went back to it," she said. "I really thought it was an amazing story."

She says while it's exciting to direct a new show, it's a little scary.

Walker will be in the audience tonight.

"I hope he'll just enjoy seeing his words come to life," Becker said.

"I hope he says, 'This is exactly what I pictured,' " Hand said.

"If he doesn't, you're exactly what I pictured," Becker reassured her.



Playwright Comes Home to Launch Newest Creation

Thursday, March 17, 2005

of The Montclair Times

Ian Walker looks nothing like the misfit he claims to be.

Upon first impression of the tall, lanky, playwright with the startling green eyes, a reporter gets the sense that he is at ease with himself and the world. But with the creation of “A Beautiful Home for the Incurable,” this was exactly his point: the misfit exists in everyone. The play previews at Luna Stage on March 17 and 18 and runs through April 10.

Walker’s presence at Luna Stage is a homecoming of sorts. The son of Pulitzer-prize winning composer George Walker, he spent several years of his childhood in Montclair. He eventually moved to Boulder, Col., with his mother after his parents divorced.

The word “misfit” really describes the way that people fall short of society’s expectations to be more beautiful, successful and worthy of love, Walker said. His own feelings of incongruity come from being a black man in a white-dominated society and even trying to fit in as an artist.

“Artists in general have sort of a queasy place in society,” Walker said.

The play examines the serious nature of mental illness in a light-hearted way. The main character, Bunny Temple, is an agoraphobic person residing in New York who organizes weekly get-togethers with other mentally ill friends. After Bunny Temple becomes the victim of identity theft and is left penniless, the four friends decide to catch the thief themselves.

In writing “A Beautiful Home for the Incurable,” Walker said, he sought to create an ideal world where the misfit is not an outcast of society and whose quirks are accepted and acceptable. Like the characters in his play, people in Walker’s idealized world would not shy away from eccentricities.

“Our primary responsibility is to see each other and look past stereotypes and preconceived notions. This goes for the misfit as well,” Walker said.

Walker has some authority on people who live in the margins of society. He has had a long career in various therapeutic capacities, including working as a counselor for people with HIV, a drug abuse prevention counselor and a health educator. Walker’s artistic and counseling sides have blended in his work as a coordinator for an AIDS prevention program, which taught drug abusers improvisational acting. Along with acting and playwriting, Walker is an environmental health educator.

Walker’s inspiration for the play came from a moment of feeling very “other” while driving in his car one day and listening to National Public Radio. He doesn’t remember the exact topic that sparked this feeling but does recall having the sense of disbelief that he could suddenly feel so different from his previous self-perception.

Even with serious topics such as mental illness, Walker’s experience has taught him that laughter is a healthy response to life’s challenges. Nonetheless, this comedic play is a switch for the San Francisco-based playwright. Usually, he takes on weightier and more political topics. As a founder and resident playwright of Second Wind Productions in San Francisco, Walker has touched on topics such as the oppression of apartheid, addictions and other darker aspects of the human condition.

“Comedy is the world I want rather than the world I’m concerned about,” Walker said. “Drama is the world I worry about.”

His desired end result is for viewers to merely “see” various types of people and be infused with a greater sense of compassion for the human condition, even with all its crazy ways.

“Being in touch with people is one of the really few joys of being alive,” Walker said.

Walker said he hopes all the peace and understanding of his play will transmute into the personal lives of the audience.

“I want people to get back in touch with the love in their lives and feel closer to them,” Walker said. “It’s an affirming play in the end.”



A Sweet Theatrical Treat at the Pear  

By David Herbert

Mountain View Voice 

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 dherbert@mv-voice.com


New Comedy at the Pear

By David Herbert

Mountain View Voice 

If the characters from Bay Area playwright Ian Walker's new comedy "A Beautiful Home for the Incurable" were invited to the premiere, none of them would be able to make it.

The play, which opens June 25 at the Pear Avenue Theatre and runs until July 11, stars a motley group of friends, each suffering from rare psychological disorders.

There's Bunny, the agoraphobe (fear of open or public places); Madeline, a transient global amnesiac (short-term memory loss); Lucy, a narcoleptic (sleep disorder), and Nick, an ideomotor apraxic (involuntary body movements). The show takes place, of course, in Bunny's apartment as the group reacts to the news that he is the victim of identity theft.

"It's a comedy about being on the outside of society," said Walker, who lives in San Francisco.

Walker got the idea for the play while listening to the radio one day.

"I was listening to a report on NPR, and I can't remember what it was about, but I suddenly felt like my point of view on the issue was on the fringes of society and how frustrated and helpless this made me feel," he said, adding that as a Bay Area resident, it is not uncommon to feel outside the national political mainstream.

The play is a comedy, but it also tries to subtly encourage the members of the audience to reexamine themselves.

"It's about questioning our notions of what normal and perfect are," said Diane Tasca, the Pear's artistic director.

Walker hopes audiences will identify with the characters and find they have more in common than they think.

"I wanted to see how their conditions amplified the feelings that we all have," he said.

Walker's ultimate goal is to make audiences more sensitive to the struggle we all face with the idea of normality.

"I hope that when people walk out of the show and hug their partner, and have a little bit more compassion for the people they see that are on the (out)skirts, whether they are homeless or mentally challenged or just in another political party," he said.

The mission of the Pear Avenue Theatre, according to "Incurable" director Jeanie Forte, is to produce local playwrights. The Mountain View theater can also be a type of launching pad for new plays, she added. A theater in New Jersey is already planning a production of "A Beautiful Home for the Incurable" in Spring 2005.

"It's a very funny, very sweet story," Forte said. "We were all touched by it."

E-mail David Herbert at dherbert@mv-voice.com