Page 20

On the Cover Continued from page 18

you wiser? Well, that could be another part of it. But I think it gives you empathy and therein lies your strength.” He pulls apart his pipe and scrapes it clean with a pocketknife. “It’s when you can really understand somebody else because you’ve walked the same path.” He says if Radioman can help that one soldier to heal or give one civilian family member at the back of the theater some understanding of what it’s like down in the rabbit hole, it’s worth it. He also feels a lot of pressure to get it right; to honor his platoon of 28 guys with dignity. “It’s not just me,” he explains. “If it was just about me, it’d be a whole different bag of puppies.”

How It All Started

Above: Eric Hollenbeck is just out of frame in this iconic photograph from the Vietnam War. His long-held belief that the man lifting his arms in the air is the sergeant he shadowed throughout the war was finally confirmed in 2014. Photo by Art Greenspon. Below: Playwright James McManus (center) and Radioman’s Assistant Director Daniel Penilla (left), listen intently during the play’s second reading. Photo by Amy Barnes

Eric says his mom took this photograph of him back in 1968, “five minutes after he got home” from his tour in Vietnam. Submitted

Before the reading, the Hollenbecks are down the block from Art Share, eating pie and visiting with the staff of the Cornerstone Theater Co. Eric isn’t as nervous as expected. In fact, he’s got his hair slicked back and is wearing a neat, black polo shirt with the 101st Airborne emblem embroidered on it. He seems in his element — perky even. As a rule, though, he doesn’t like leaving home and when he does, he tracks the journey back to Blue Ox in his mind overland. Just in case. He jokes he can’t have the hazelnut creamer in his coffee because that’s what they have at the shrink’s office. When Cornerstone hosted a community theater project at Blue Ox several years ago, Eric and Viviana got to know producer Lester Grant. One day, Eric and Viviana pulled Grant into their office, fed him lunch and showed him Eric’s poems. Viviana told him about her vision of turning them into a play, adding stories from other vets and structuring it something like The Vagina Monologues. The poems took Grant on a journey that made him see veterans in a whole new way. “It filled in the blanks for me. And so I said, ‘You know what? We should do this,’” he says in his warm Caribbean accent. He smiles. “This was the beginning of the journey of Radioman.” First, they needed to find a really gifted playwright. Grant, who is producing the play alongside the Hollenbecks, says he didn’t just want it to be an actor up on stage “spouting beautiful things that people want to hear.” He wanted it to be real. Grant had just the person in mind. No stranger to writing the hard stuff, McManus developed a play for Cornerstone called Love on San Pedro that sent him to L.A.’s Skid Row to explore stories of homelessness. McManus already knew the story circle format, and Grant says he turned Love on San Pedro into a true voice of the people while, at the same time, maintaining theatricality — a hard balance. “He came to my place and we sat down and I told him what the concept was and his eyes were like saucers,” Grant remembers. “He said, ‘Listen I’m from Pittsburgh, my town was decimated because of the war and the men who came back so broken. I have to do this project.’”

The Playwright Settled in at a sidewalk cafe on Melrose Avenue, McManus wears his signature Irish flatcap. With the big brown eyes of a little boy and the

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

North Coast Journal 11-09-17 Edition  
Advertisement