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On the Cover

‘You gotta get through it somehow.’

‘This play is so important. I’ve never read anything like this.’

‘Same shit, different war.’

‘I feel this enormous weight.’

By Amy Barnes

‘My father. My uncle. My sister.’

‘It ain’t just a woodworking shop.’ ‘PTSD.’

‘It’s a tense time right now.’

‘You gave words to something I experience every day.’ ‘That was a good cold reading.’

‘Thanks for laughing occasionally.’

‘Damn, honestly? I’m gonna go have drinks.’

Photo by León Villagómez

The Journey of Radioman

‘I’m Eric Hollenbeck. I was the radioman.’

P

ieces 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.

The Radioman Hollenbeck’s stories first fell together 20-some years ago, when he wrestled his experiences as a young soldier into a series of poems titled, Uncle Sam’s Field Guide to Southeast Asia. Technically, Hollenbeck didn’t write the poems. Instead, he spoke his words into a cassette player. “I dropped out of school when I was 14 and went to work in the woods,” he explains. “I can’t read.” Called up for the draft at 18, Hollenbeck spent seven-and-a-half months straight on the frontlines. “I was in the heaviest combat in Vietnam,” he says. “We were in the jungle the whole time.” Discharged early because his father died, Hollenbeck was suddenly sole pro-

vider for his mom and younger brother. He says the transition home was rough. Within 72 hours of being pulled out of enemy fire, he found himself standing in his mother’s kitchen, his interior landscape — his life — forever changed. “I got home Saturday night and went back to work in the woods at 5 o’clock Monday morning.” He exhales a plume of pipe smoke. “I remember my mom saying one time that ‘Eric never did come home.’” Back in 1973, after a self-proclaimed meltdown and months of drifting, Hollenbeck bought a piece of derelict property on Humboldt Bay with a $300 bank loan and a leap of faith from the local building department. Over the years, with wife Viviana by his side, Eric’s salvage logging company evolved into Blue Ox Mill and Historic Park. Today, Blue Ox encompasses a full production millworks shop, smithy, foundry, apothecary, print shop, ceramics, stained glass and fabrics studio, working Continued on next page »

northcoastjournal.com • Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 • NORTH COAST JOURNAL

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North Coast Journal 11-09-17 Edition  
North Coast Journal 11-09-17 Edition  
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