Thursday, April 28, 2022

All That Really Matters

My play The Sugar Ridge Rag opens tonight at the LAB Theater Project in Tampa, running through May 15.  It’s been two years since I began to write it and six months since Owen Robertson, the producer at LAB, wrote me to tell me they wanted to add it to their 2022 season and have it directed by Caroline Jett.

My job as the playwright is to write the play and then entrust it to the company to make the story and the characters come alive.  I will see that happen tonight with this play that I feel is one that is closer to my own heart than just about any other of my works produced so far.  I know it is in good hands.  The process from page to stage has been thrilling to watch as Owen, Caroline, and the cast and crew have put the production together.  Located in a storefront in historic Ybor City along the old cobblestone streets, this small-in-square-footage theatre has been thoroughly professional and taking care of every detail.

One of my duties was to write a note for the program.  I’ve seen this in other plays and I’ve wondered what I would say about the play if I had the chance to write it.  Well, now I have, and here it is.

Every one of us has moments when our life changes course. How we deal with that moment says much about who we are, where we will go, and how it will touch those we love. For me, one such moment was May 4, 1970, when four students were killed at Kent State University in Ohio during a demonstration against the war in Vietnam. I was seventeen and lived just over a hundred miles from the school. The loss hit me hard because those students were not much older than me, and at least one of them wasn’t even involved in the demonstration; he was just passing by. The deaths further divided the country over the war, wounds which have yet to heal. For me, the war changed from being an abstract series of grainy images on the nightly news into something real that I would have to confront in four months when I would turn eighteen and have to register for the draft. The choice I made on that morning in May 1970 changed my life forever.

For a long time, I thought of writing about twin brothers going their different ways, each following what they believed was their calling and what their decisions meant to the people they left behind. When the fiftieth anniversary of Kent State came in 2020, I was able to hear the Granger family of Sugar Ridge, Ohio, tell me their memories about that time and how they dealt with it. What they told me wasn’t about politics or ideology or war vs. peace. It was about how each of them learned that something as simple as being able to sit in the backyard on a summer evening and listen to a baseball game on the radio was what really mattered, and how loving one another was the most important thing of all.

If you can’t make it to the theatre, it will be available on-demand from May 12 to 26. Enjoy the show.

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