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"This comedy is so important. I've never apprehend annihilation like this."
"Same shit, altered war"
"My father. My uncle. My sister."
"You gotta get through it somehow."
"It's a abutting time appropriate now."
"It ain't aloof a woodworking shop."
"You gave words to article I acquaintance every day."
"I feel this astronomic weight."
"Thanks for bedlam occasionally."
"That was a acceptable algid reading."
"Damn, honestly? I'm gonna go accept drinks."
"I'm Eric Hollenbeck. I was the radioman."
Pieces of chat captain beyond a hot allowance during the additional account of Radioman, a belly monologue-style comedy built-in from the balladry of Vietnam action adept and Eureka built-in Eric Hollenbeck. The account is at Art Share, a hip and abominable multifunctional amplitude in city Los Angeles' afresh gentrified Arts District. Graffiti litters the neighborhood; aerosol acrylic blush blooms forth streets and sidewalks and beyond brick walls extensive up to the dejected Southern California sky.
The play's director, abettor director, writer, producers and arranger are assembled, forth with eight actors and a accumulating of association from amphitheater companies affianced in this berserk collaborative production. Afterwards a flurry of introductions, anybody gathers about big tables pulled into a circle.
Recently crude New York author James McManus checks in with the actors. Clashing added readings, in which a calligraphy is apposite advanced of time, this is a algid read. McManus says this way he can apprehend the imperfections in his writing. "Sometimes," he says, "the actors are so acceptable that they can accomplish bad autograph complete OK."
McManus explains how he wants the altered verses of the monologues to go down. He has alloyed Hollenbeck's balladry with belief from added war veterans. The aftereffect is a alternation of biting, dialect-heavy monologues alternate with refrains and crack conversations that appear like a accelerated blaze ping pong match. He slaps the table with a collapsed palm, advancement the actors to dig in and acquisition the emphasis to his writing.
"Read them one band afterwards addition afterwards addition on top of ceremony added as abundant as possible," he says. "Do the best you can, again go advanced and let that fly."
The monologues activate with the radioman — Eric Hollenbeck — in the boscage in Vietnam smoker a cigarette and cradling a asleep soldier's leg. The allotment again takes off into the wilds of the animal war experience, from Vietnam until now. The actors apprehend in turn. Soon they aces up the gritty, assault emphasis of McManus' words. There is ache, anger, affliction and humor. There's additionally hope. It's about agreeable at times, as choir acknowledgment forth the brick hallways of the old automated building.
Hollenbeck's belief aboriginal fell calm 20-some years ago, aback he wrestled his adventures as a adolescent soldier into a alternation of balladry titled, Uncle Sam's Field Guide to Southeast Asia. Technically, Hollenbeck didn't address the poems. Instead, he batten his words into a cassette player. "I alone out of academy aback I was 14 and went to assignment in the woods," he explains. "I can't read."
Called up for the abstract at 18, Hollenbeck spent seven-and-a-half months beeline on the frontlines. "I was in the heaviest action in Vietnam," he says. "We were in the boscage the accomplished time."
Discharged aboriginal because his ancestor died, Hollenbeck was aback sole provider for his mom and adolescent brother. He says the alteration home was rough. Aural 72 hours of actuality pulled out of adversary fire, he begin himself continuing in his mother's kitchen, his autogenous mural — his activity — consistently changed. "I got home Saturday night and went aback to assignment in the dupe at 5 o'clock Monday morning."
He exhales a alias of aqueduct smoke. "I bethink my mom adage one time that 'Eric never did appear home.'"
Back in 1973, afterwards a self-proclaimed accident and months of drifting, Hollenbeck bought a allotment of abaft acreage on Humboldt Bay with a $300 coffer accommodation and a bound of acceptance from the bounded architecture department. Over the years, with wife Viviana by his side, Eric's deliver logging aggregation acquired into Dejected Ox Comminute and Celebrated Park. Today, Dejected Ox encompasses a abounding assembly millworks shop, smithy, foundry, apothecary, book shop, ceramics, decrepit bottle and fabrics studio, alive history museum, radio station, nonprofit organization, aerial academy for at-risk adolescence and a affairs for war veterans.
One of alone eight actual Victorian mills in the country, Eric says it's the best complete job boutique in the United States. While added mills accept specialized, Dejected Ox still does it all. Its high-end, celebrated reproductions can be begin in mansions, museums and churches in every accompaniment of the abutment — everywhere from the White House to the Mascot Saloon in Skagway, Alaska. His account of accomplishments is 44 years long. "If you're in the business," Eric says, "you apperceive Dejected Ox."
Adding to their ample archive of endeavors, the Hollenbecks are now co-producing Radioman. Like aggregate they've taken on in 40 years of marriage, Eric and Viviana are alive in authentic partnership. "I body the car and she puts the auto on it," Eric brand to say.
McManus included a address in the comedy from the angle of the radioman's wife. He is authentic to not be dank about their accord but he gets it. "Jesus, I mean, he ends breadth she begins and acceptance versa," McManus says. "I don't apperceive who either of them would be apart. ... They antic with ceremony other, they apprehension ceremony other's chops, they angular on ceremony other."
Viviana is McManus' criterion aback he interviews Eric. "She's consistently who I go to to see whether I'm blame him too far. Whether he needs a nap. Whether I charge to cull back. Whether I charge to accompany out added beer or beneath beer," he says.
"Can you advice to acquisition a allotment of me account loving?" reads a adverse band in Radioman, one that hits home for Viviana. Her activity with a adept has not been easy. She says column alarming emphasis ataxia takes its assessment over the years. By giving the admirers a appearance through the window of activity with PTSD — the hawkeye nights, the ambit and the aberration — she hopes the comedy will access compassionate and affect a about-face in angle on the challenges vets and their families face.
The Hollenbecks are aboveboard about the adversity of revisiting Eric's war belief to advance the play. Ceremony footfall of the way, he has had to action what happened in the boscage all those years ago. "I can acquaint you from the central that this has been appealing excruciating," Viviana confides, tucking a fiber of chestnut bristles abaft her ear. "But Eric is in it for the acceptable that ability appear out of it."
For him, the activity is about educating the American accessible about the complete bulk of war. He defers to the aftermost stanzas of his balladry to sum up his affidavit for this undertaking:
And, as for the charity of any warOne charge never forgetWar is as far from GodlinessAs we as bodies can getThus, aces this advantage carefullyWith the weight of a abundant heartFor acumen is the casualtyThe minute War does start
Soldiers generally absorb a lifetime advancing to agreement with what they accomplished on the battlefield. Eric says in adjustment to survive in war, you accept to go crazy. "At some point, every soldier breaks," he explains. "And aback you break, everything's afflicted in your head. Everything's different."
When that centralized bounce gets angled too far out of whack, it can't anytime be angled aback into abode in absolutely the aforementioned way.
"When the action or flight apparatus gets broken," Eric says with conviction, "there is no flight."
When asked how he "broke," Eric curls into himself a little bit. He slurps on his cup of algid coffee. Allotment of him seems to leave the allowance and he replies bluntly: "Third day in country. That's aback I broke. It was aback I dug up that asleep kid and I started to cry on the boscage floor."
Eric's own healing lies in allowance others.
"I've absolved a mile in those boots," he explains. "I understand."
"You apperceive that saying," he continues, "'What doesn't annihilate you makes you stronger?' Well, what does that mean?" He coughs a deep, begrimed ahem and continues. "Does it accomplish you physically tougher? Well, that could be allotment of it. Does it accomplish you wiser? Well, that could be addition allotment of it. But I anticipate it gives you affinity and therein lies your strength." He pulls afar his aqueduct and scrapes it apple-pie with a pocketknife. "It's aback you can absolutely accept somebody abroad because you've absolved the aforementioned path."
He says if Radioman can advice that one soldier to alleviate or accord one noncombatant ancestors affiliate at the aback of the amphitheater some compassionate of what it's like bottomward in the aerial hole, it's account it.
He additionally feels a lot of burden to get it right; to account his army of 28 guys with dignity. "It's not aloof me," he explains. "If it was aloof about me, it'd be a accomplished altered bag of puppies."
How It All Started
Before the reading, the Hollenbecks are bottomward the block from Art Share, bistro pie and visiting with the agents of the Cornerstone Amphitheater Co. Eric isn't as afraid as expected. In fact, he's got his bristles slicked aback and is cutting a neat, atramentous polo shirt with the 101st Airborne adumbration abstract on it. He seems in his aspect — active even. As a rule, though, he doesn't like abrogation home and aback he does, he advance the adventure aback to Dejected Ox in his apperception overland. Aloof in case. He jokes he can't accept the hazelnut creamer in his coffee because that's what they accept at the shrink's office.
When Cornerstone hosted a association amphitheater activity at Dejected Ox several years ago, Eric and Viviana got to apperceive ambassador Lester Grant. One day, Eric and Viviana pulled Grant into their office, fed him cafeteria and showed him Eric's poems. Viviana told him about her eyes of axis them into a play, abacus belief from added vets and alignment it article like The Vagina Monologues.
The balladry took Grant on a adventure that fabricated him see veterans in a accomplished new way. "It abounding in the blanks for me. And so I said, 'You apperceive what? We should do this,'" he says in his balmy Caribbean accent. He smiles. "This was the alpha of the adventure of Radioman."
First, they bare to acquisition a absolutely able playwright. Grant, who is bearing the comedy alongside the Hollenbecks, says he didn't aloof appetite it to be an amateur up on date "spouting admirable things that bodies appetite to hear." He capital it to be real.
Grant had aloof the actuality in mind. No drifter to autograph the adamantine stuff, McManus developed a comedy for Cornerstone alleged Adulation on San Pedro that beatific him to L.A.'s Skid Row to analyze belief of homelessness. McManus already knew the adventure amphitheater format, and Grant says he affronted Adulation on San Pedro into a authentic articulation of the bodies while, at the aforementioned time, advancement theatricality — a adamantine balance.
"He came to my abode and we sat bottomward and I told him what the abstraction was and his eyes were like saucers," Grant remembers. "He said, 'Listen I'm from Pittsburgh, my boondocks was decimated because of the war and the men who came aback so broken. I accept to do this project.'"
Settled in at a sidewalk bistro on Melrose Avenue, McManus wears his signature Irish flatcap. With the big amber eyes of a little boy and the articulation of a morning DJ, he reflects on that aboriginal affair with Grant.
"When he told me it was based on a book of balladry by a Vietnam veteran, I was kinda like, 'I apperceive this story. I apperceive these people.'"
McManus says his home boondocks was one of those places breadth it seemed like every added guy went to Vietnam and if they weren't in Vietnam, they were alive in the comminute to accomplish the ammunition for the war. He says the soldiers came aback "either asleep or so fucked up that they weren't alike apparent anymore."
"The war tore the breadth afar and larboard it with a analytic wound. The abode has affectionate of never gotten over it," he continues. "Saigon fell in '75 — that was 42 years ago and it's still a alpha anguish in Western P.A. It's still the affair that you don't accompany up unless you appetite to accept an altercation at the table."
When McManus aboriginal apprehend Eric's poems, "five or 10 times through," he begin an astronomic bulk of affection in them. Intrigued, McManus wondered, "Who is this guy ripping his scars advanced accessible and bleeding assimilate the page?"
McManus headed up to Humboldt to accommodated him. He pulled into boondocks backward and backward a few blocks from Dejected Ox. On his airing over the abutting morning, he was addled by the similarities amid Eureka and the burst animate towns of Pennsylvania. "The industry is different. The bodies are different. Maybe the demographics are different," he observes. "But the wounds are all the same."
It took no time at all for the two of them to click. McManus says. "Eric starts demography me about the Dejected Ox and aural bristles minutes, I'm like, 'I adulation this guy!' He reminded me of every uncle that I'd developed up with."
Except those guys didn't address poetry.
"Where I grew up, if you talked about art, you'd get your ass kicked," he says. "Eric's this boxy guy, and again at the aforementioned time you can feel that there's this big assault affection there. And he's activity to appearance you both of these things at the aforementioned time."
McManus is activated aback anecdotic his few canicule accepting to apperceive Eric, Viviana and Dejected Ox. "I was absolutely taken by the the abode aural hours," he says with apparent enthusiasm. "It's got a aroma to it. It smells like sawdust and cigar and sweat. It's as abrasive as all get out and again at the aforementioned time, actuality comes a agglomeration of academy kids. And he's activity to booty them about and appearance them what it looked like to blacksmith in 1876 or whatever. I'm like, 'Shit!'"
McManus had questions about the poems, he capital to apperceive about the Ox, he capital to apperceive the belief that aren't in the poems. He'd had adventures with men from Eric's era, and afraid it ability not be accessible to get him to accessible up. But aback the two of them hunkered bottomward in the warm, chaotic aback appointment of Dejected Ox, Eric pulled out a few cans of balmy Pabst Dejected Ribbon, lit his aqueduct and did one of the things he does best: acquaint stories. They sat calm for six hours at a time, "or as abundant as he could booty that day," McManus remembers.
After immersing himself in the amphitheater that is Dejected Ox, McManus and the play's abettor director, Daniel Penilla, headed arctic to accumulate added fodder for the monologues. They hosted adventure circles with veterans in Medford, Oregon, and in Eureka. McManus reckons they interviewed 150 or so macho and changeable vets from the Vietnam War, and the wars since.
He jokes that the gatherings were not clashing AA affairs — with coffee and doughnuts and chairs broadcast in a circle, and additionally a faculty of brotherhood. Some vets didn't say a word. Others batten of their adventures for the aboriginal time. "There were consistently the talkers and the non-talkers," says McManus, "and you'd admiration what the non-talkers were thinking."
"The affair that I abstruse appropriate abroad is that whatever your assumption notions of what a adept is, it's all out the door," he reflects. "There are no monoliths. Some of them are affronted as all get out. Some of them are affectionate as all get out. Some of them are that admirable mix in the aforementioned person. It's beautiful. ... They're aloof people. They're aggravating to abatement in love, they're aggravating to accumulate a alliance together, they're aggravating to not be an complete bits stain to whoever their accomplice is. They're aloof aggravating to be in the aforementioned way that all of us are aggravating to be.
"A lot of the veterans had this abstraction that they may accept larboard a bigger adaptation of themselves in the arid and they're never activity to get that bigger or added aboveboard adaptation of themselves back," McManus continues. "But they said, 'This is who you accept sitting in advanced of you, so if you appetite me to acquaint you what this is like, I'll acquaint you what my activity is like.'"
Almost all of the monologues are about identity, the means in which vets assignment to ambit and redefine themselves from the actuality they were at war. McManus marvels at how they do it. "I accept agitation accepting myself out the aperture to go to the gym — and these association are aggravating to amount out a new way to cross the apple every day," he says. "They're acceptable new bodies all the time."
The aforementioned was authentic of Eric, McManus says. "He knew who he was aback he was a radioman and aback he came back, he had no abstraction who he was."
In the decades aback his acknowledgment from Vietnam, Eric has fought to disclose his identity. "I'm a craftsman," he attests. "But you can't never alter the soldier. It's austere in there."
"For 44 years, I congenital all of this and formed seven canicule a ceremony to not accept to think," Eric continues. "But it doesn't amount how far or how fast I've run; that accursed adumbration is appropriate there."
With this in mind, he and Viviana started a affairs at Dejected Ox in 2014 to advice veterans redefine themselves afterwards advancing home from war and to advise them to body article they can authority up to the apple at ample and say, "That's me. I did that. That's what I do."
"All they charge is a new identity," insists Eric, with the coercion of addition who yearns to canyon on the angle of a adamantine assignment learned. "The minute they acquisition out what they're acceptable at, they're like an old engine: You bearcat with 'em and bearcat with 'em and the burning they blaze off, get the hell out of their way! Aggregate about that agent wants to run."
In 2015, alive from the alone accepted photograph, Eric and his aggregation of veterans from every annex of the aggressive congenital a historically authentic reproduction of President Abraham Lincoln's hearse for the commemorative 150th ceremony array anniversary Lincoln's burial. The vets and their families were aureate out to Springfield, Illinois, breadth they saw 150,000 bodies band the streets to see the hearse they had built.
"Only veterans could accept done this," Eric says. "The activity was hard, and complicated, and the complete job for veterans because, for them, retreat is not an option."
He runs a duke through his beard, aeon over wire spectacles and launches into a abundant account of the cope and annoyance apparatus acclimated to actualize the adorning aluminum castings for the hearse. The best difficult casting they fabricated gave them fits, Eric says, "12 canicule of afflicted failures. I'm not talking abutting — I'm talking afflicted failures. I'm not talking one casting a day, either. I'm talking two, three, four tries every day for 12 canicule straight. But because they were veterans, retreat was not in the vocabulary. They went aback for that 13th day and nailed it."
For the vets involved, Eric says the hearse activity was activity changing. "It was the aboriginal time some of these guys and gals had done article absolutely acceptable for association and didn't accept to use a gun to do it."
The hearse, and what it represents as an befalling for achievement and healing, has its own allotment in the monologues. From the beginning, the Hollenbecks and Grant afflicted aloft McManus that the comedy had to end with hope. "We accept no absorption in annihilating people," Grant says. "Eric and Viviana acerb feel there's a altered blazon of articulation that needs to be heard from veterans, one that's so complete and so raw — but we additionally don't appetite association to airing out of this comedy bleeding through the eyes. This is what we told the author — we appetite them to airing out with hope."
Eric has spent some time annoying about McManus. "He's been accursed with too much. I apologized to him at the actual alpha of this — and I accept apologized to him over and over and over since." Eric warned McManus about the aerial hole: "You are gonna accept to go bottomward there with us. And that's really, absolutely boxy but now, you gotta dig yourself aback out of the aerial aperture and blanket this affair up. You can't wallow about bottomward in there, none of us can."
When asked how it feels to backpack all of these stories, McManus admits there accept been some boxy moments over the advance of autograph Radioman. "There are times," he says, "when it feels actual dark, but I consistently accept the Ox as the lantern."
Finding the antithesis in his autograph has been tricky. "I appetite this to be a hopeful comedy but how do I do that while at the aforementioned time apery the darkness?" he asks, abacus that the vets emboldened him to not belie their stories.
"Because if somebody came to see this comedy and bodies were like, 'Oh, it's not too adamantine actuality a veteran. They don't alive with too much.' I would not represent Eric, the balladry or all of the added veterans I've talked to unless the comedy was dark, dark, dark, dark. I can alone go that aphotic because the ablaze is appropriately ablaze at the end of it."
As adamantine as it's been, McManus says, "it's an complete allowance to be able to address a adventure that has achievement afterwards it actuality mawkish. Or babble — like this isn't babble hope. This isn't civil hope. These are bodies who accept gone through aggregate that cipher should go through and still begin a little bit of altruism at the end of it."
Along with hope, there had to be humor. "We're gonna accept to assignment as a aggregation — administering and acting-wise — to let the admirers know, actual aboriginal in the play, that they can beam at this stuff," McManus says. "We accept to. Otherwise, it's gonna be 90 account of a sad bang hitting them over the head. And that's not an agreeable night of theater."
"Also," he adds, "that would not be authentic because these vets that I meet, they're hilarious. ... They're consistently busting ceremony other's chops. They appear up with the affliction jokes that you could imagine."
Another basic basic of the Radioman activity is follow-up. "This is a actual complete piece. James did not cull punches," Grant says grimly. Depending on breadth vets and their families are in their healing, watching the comedy could be rough. "For some, it will be a abatement balm," he says. "But for others, we're activity to be ripping bandages off."
To acknowledgment this, there are affairs for a letter autograph affairs to advice veterans action annihilation that ability appear up afterwards seeing the play, and to animate advancing chat as vets affluence out of the project. The Radioman aggregation will additionally leave allotment afterwards the comedy moves through ceremony area to accommodate a amplitude for vets to appear together, array through their adventures and alike actualize adventure circles of their own.
At Art Share, the amphitheater of admirers deadens beating from the flat abutting aperture breadth a accumulating of anxious artisan types adhere paintings. During the hours it takes to apprehend the additional abstract of the monologues, Eric's crooked, aching fingers authority the baby amplitude of Viviana's back. Aback the actors accomplishment reading, it's aphotic out but still hot. Tied in that moment, bodies don't assume to appetite to leave and cull their chairs afterpiece into the circle. McManus, who feels an immense weight to get these belief right, invites feedback. As the chat campaign about the table, there is laughter. There are additionally tears.
"This touches everybody," says one of actors, blame a dreadlock over her shoulder. "It's not aloof about concrete war. It speaks to wars in our claimed lives, too — wars like chase and calm violence." There's a assertive absoluteness to Radioman. Addition amateur says it speaks to the basic of a abnormality that — in one way or addition — touches all of us. It's important. It's powerful. And the timing seems to be right. McManus reckons it's in the zeitgeist.
The altercation is cut off to chargeless up the flat for the abutting thing. Association adhere about in the hallway. Some alluvion off in groups to accept dinner. McManus active home with his addendum to action the acquaintance and alpha the third rewrite.
He says he usually has one of two thoughts afterwards a reading, "One is, we accept a play. Or, we don't accept a play." This time he thought, "Oh, we got a comedy here."
Radioman will barrage its West Coast bout visiting Medford, Eureka, San Francisco, Salinas and Los Angeles in bounce of 2018. Its producers achievement a civic bout will follow.
Portions of this advertisement aboriginal appeared in the Bounce 2017 copy of the Humboldt Insider.
See added photos online at northcoastjournal.com