Author Paris Barclay attends a special performance of One Red Flower
Saturday, March 7th was an emotional evening for the Vietnam veterans and their families who walked into a former armory – the Kensington Town Center – to see Kensington Arts Theatre’s (KAT) production of Paris Barclay’s One Red Flower, a musical about Vietnam veterans who wrote letters back home, and the impact the letters and the war had on their lives, and the lives of their families. And, it was also an exciting evening – because the writer and composer of One Red Flower, Paris Barclay, was in attendance with Bernard Edelman, editor of Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam for the New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Before the show, I spoke to some of the veterans. They talked about Vietnam, and how they were able to pick up their lives when they returned home, despite the fact that they were not welcomed back as heroes, because of the harsh opposition to the war. Some talked about their exposure to Agent Orange, and how their lives and health continue to be affected by it.
Talking made me remember my paralegal days, when I worked with a local law firm, trying to obtain compensation for Vietnam veterans, who were unfortunately exposed to Agent Orange. How these veterans had and have suffered!
I saw flashbacks of thousands of Vietnam veterans cramming into the Baltimore Civic Center while John Sutter, a medic stationed in Danang, and now the lead attorney trying to get compensation and VA medical care for these suffering veterans, (which was denied to them because the government would not admit that the toxic chemical dioxin was in Agent Orange), begged all of them to “opt out” of the class settlement that was recently approved in a NYC court, because the amount they’d receive was too low for their sacrifice. I remember hearing veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in the fields and from drinking the local water that the defoliant seeped into, tell their wrenching stories about coming home and experiencing horrible nightmares, and rashes and sterility. I remembered the face of a young, 35 year old pilot who sprayed Agent Orange, who was dying in a cancer ward, and holding his hand and video taping his deposition, so it could be used many years later at his family’s “opt out” trial, and watching him pass away only hours after completing his deposition…
After Saturday’s performance, I watched veterans wipe away tears as the post-performance talk back, when they were asked to rise, so that the audience could thank them for their service.
I asked Paris Barclay the composer, book writer and lyricist of One Red Flower to talk about that special evening:
Joel: What is One Red Flower about?
Paris: One Red Flower is a “docu-musical,” based on the real letters of soldiers who served during the Vietnam War. The letters are edited as little as possible, and arranged to create 6 men (and the mother of one of them) traveling through a single year in Vietnam – 1969. Emotionally, it’s about what war does to young men – away from home, and with only each other to depend on.
I would describe [the score] as inspired by the sounds of the ’60’s you don’t always hear, but that led the charts both at home and away. Bacharach and David, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, James Brown, The Temptations, and The Association – all influenced numbers in the score.
Joel: When were you contacted by Kensington Arts Theatre asking to mount a production of One Red Flower?
Paris: Over a year ago, after producer Jenna Ballard saw the Signature Theatre production of the show.
Joel: What advice did you give them?
Paris: Stay true to the words.
Joel: Tell us about KAT’s production on Saturday and the talk back that followed.
Paris: Craig Pettinati’s stagecraft is very impressive. The cast (Tim Adams, Wendy Baird, Eymard Meneses Cabling, James Finley, Greg Gardner, Jon Keeling and Andrew Miitakides) is solid, both as musicians and actors. The talk back gave me the chance to hear from folks who were clearly touched by the performance. One Iraqi vet even gave me a bracelet he had worn of a friend he lost in that war. I was deeply moved.
Joel: Bernard Edelman, the editor of Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam, joined you in the post-performance discussion. When did you first meet him, and what was his contribution in creating the show?
Paris: About 23 years ago. His contribution was to help me find the best letters, and to speak to the letter writers and/or their families to get us permission to use the letters in the play. His advocacy and sensitivity have been critical to making this show happen at all.
Joel: Did you serve in Vietnam, and if not, why was it important to tell the story of One Red Flower?
Paris: I was too young to serve in Vietnam, but it still affected my childhood. The story has a pertinence to any war, including (and especially) the ones we’re in now.
Joel: What is the most emotional scene for you to watch in One Red Flower?
Paris: Eleanor’s final letter at the end of the play. It’s the heart of the piece.
Joel: What do you want Vietnam veterans and audiences to take with them when they leave the theatre after seeing One Red Flower at Kensington Arts Theatre?
Paris: It’s said in the script on the title page, in a quote from Bernard Malamud: “Mourning is such hard business. If more people knew, there would be less death.” But, amid all the turmoil, the soldiers find lightness, and humor, and admiration for each other. If the audience feels any of this, then we’ve done our job.
One Red Flower has two remaining performances on Friday, March 13th and Saturday, March 14th at 8 pm at the Kensington Town Center – 3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington, MD. Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for Seniors (60+) and high school and college students, and $13 for children under 13.
NOTE: Eleanor Wimbish, who inspired the character of Eleanor Bridges, will be at the this Saturday, March 14th’s performance.
Ian Pederson – This Kid Can Act!
You would think that when you attend a performance of The Full Monty, all eyes would be on the stripping men of the show. But, as great as Evan Hoffman (Jerry), Mike Hoskinson (Dave), Justin Latus (Malcolm), Paul Mattocks (Harold), Adrian Cubbage (“Horse”), and Chuck Dluhy (Ethan) were in Sue Pinkman’s hysterical production of The Full Monty at Reston Community Players, it was the other guy, young Ian Pedersen, who stole the show for me. Here was a confident and adorable actor, in a role that usually gets lost amid the Chippendale briefs, bringing heart and charm and perfect diction to his role as Nathan Lukowski, the son of out-of-work Jerry Lukowski, who decides to become the leader of “Hot Metal”.
At intermission, I turned to the people on both sides of me and said, “Boy, that kid is great!” Immediately, behind me, I heard, “That’s my son!” and I started up a conversation with Ian’s parents – Liz and Mike Pedersen – who told me that they had 3 sons in Show Biz, and we started talking about their young careers and Ian. And, then, I said, “How about writing me a short description of what it’s like to sit around the dinner table, catching up on what rehearsal and performance is happening”? And here it is from the mouths of the Pedersen parents:
“Places please! Dinner is being served at the Pedersen house, and that means the dinner theatre is about to begin. Let’s see what’s on the menu tonight – 1st course is a musical number by the youngest, the main course is a comedy sketch by the oldest with the middle brother the target of the lampoons, and dessert is an ensemble piece of all three boys. Then cheers, Bravo! and bows taken before reality sets in, and its time to do the dishes. These three brothers – Sean (age 14), Mikey (age 12) and Ian (age 9) have been fortunate enough to be part of our local theatre scene. They have performed in all possible venues: school plays, Reston Community theatre, Classika/Synetic Theater, Studio Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre. What’s certain is they always put on a show worth watching.
Reality these days for the boys is quite busy. Ian is currently performing as Nathan in The Full Monty with the Reston Community Players (March 6- March 28th). Mikey just made a film about the secret life of teachers after school for the PTA’s Art Reflection contest. It won the Fairfax County and Northern Virginia middle school division and just placed third in the state this past week. Like the others, Sean balances his school work and lacrosse playing with his middle school productions (Playing Danny last spring in Grease!) and will be interning this summer with Classika/Synetic Theater for Lilia Slavova, the artistic director of Classika Theatre.”
For Mike and Liz Pedersen, watching their three sons perform, and schlepping them to rehearsals and performances has been a proud and rewarding experience. Perhaps most gratifying, they say, are not the performances themselves, but watching their sons develop the self confidence, character and a sense of responsibility from having these varied and unique experiences.
Also sitting near Ian’s parents was Lilia Slavova who later introduced herself: “Joel, it’s nice to finally meet you. Ian and his brothers are students of mine, and I’m Ian’s acting coach. I’d also like send you something about my experiences with Ian and his brothers”. How could I resist an offer like that?
“Ian first came to me when he was only 5 years old, while I was teaching his older brothers Sean and Mikey. Sean, who has been already cast in the role of the Teacup in Beauty And The Beast. Mikey was just trying out the “turf”, but I remember little Ian singing all the songs of the show, and he knew his oldest brothers’ lines. All three boys are very polite, disciplined and hard working. I told their parents that Mikey will be a director one day. Now his first short movie placed 3rd in the state’s competition. Sean continued to work with me, and has been with Classika-Synetic in The Nutcracker, playing Fritz, and playing Hansel in Hansel and Gretel . He also played Kirian in Studio Theatre’s production of The Pillowman, and other roles.
My little handsome Ian was the one who wanted to be on stage the most. He had such passion for it that I created a role for him in The Nutcracker, just to give him a chance to be on stage. He worked so hard on his little role, that I knew that that kid had more to offer. His cute face soon was on Hillary Rodman Clinton’s book cover It Takes a Village. Than came the audition for the Imaginary Invalid. The director has seen him before accompanying his older brother for auditions at Shakespeare Theatre. How can anyone forget that handsome blond little boy with a big personality! He got the part, and I remember sitting in the theatre and crying because he was so cute and so determined to not let me down, and he was terrific!
When his parents – Liz and Mike – let him to audition for The Full Monty I was surprised, but thrilled for the brave decision. When he got the part of Nathan, I jokingly said that he will need a lot of therapy later. He proved me wrong! He was just so mature during the rehearsal period, so professional, that at the opening, I was again in tears to see little Ian reacting to his partners like a little pro, calm and funny with excellent diction. My little handsome Ian will have big career if he follows his passion, and keeps the same qualities instilled by his parents. He is natural, cute – and most of all – loves theatre!
Thank you Ian, for never forgetting to thank me in all your shows’ Playbills! (Don’t forget to thank your parents, too!) I feel so special every time I watch you perform! I promise to be the best teacher for you!”
Well, that says it better than I could. Here’s to Ian – the kid who keeps his clothes on, and who brings heart and warmth and smiles to this wonderful production of The Full Monty.
The Full Monty plays through March 28th at the CenterStage of the Reston Community Center – 2310 Colts Neck Drive in Reston, Virginia. For tickets, call (703) 476-4500
Performances are: Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm, with Sunday matinees on March 15th and 22nd at 2:30 pm Saturday. Tickets are $20 for Adults and $17 for seniors and students.