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Have fishing lures, will become Col. Henry Blake. (Photo by Harry Kollatz Jr.)
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Range of Emotions: Dean McKnight (“Radar”) and Jasmine Shea (“Lt. Dish”) and me are really showing our acting chops here. (Photo by Harry Kollatz Jr.)
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Quan Chau and Jasmine Shea get on the same page. (Photo by Harry Kollatz Jr.)
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The first task of acting is listening. Intently. From foreground: David Janosik, Wendy Carter, Thomas E. Nowlin, Quan Chau, and Andrew Firda. (Photo by Harry Kollatz Jr.)
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Smooches from Hotlips: I don’t think this ever happened to Henry Blake. Except in his last episode, but that was different. Wendy Carter is Maj Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan. (Photo by Harry Kollatz Jr.)
This summer I’m stepping into some big shoes.
I’m Benjamin Franklin on “Legends & Lies: The Patriots” on television. But this week and next I’m the befuddled commander of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital #4077. For the benefit of The Mighty Pen Project and in collaboration with the Richmond Triangle Players (whose house we’re using ), and the 5th Wall Theatre’s artistic director Carol Piersol (full disclosure: I’m on the company’s board) 10 Richmond actors (and a few making their debut), will offer seven presentations of three scripts from the first season of the long-running television comedy “M*A*S*H.” The shows run Aug. 4-13, Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. matinee, 4 p.m. Reserved cabaret seating is $15.
These are staged readings, meaning they aren’t fully-staged productions. Instead, actors, often in gesture costumes and with some movement, will read from the scripts.
Early on Wednesday we’ll be promoting the event on WTVR Channel 6’s “Virginia This Morning.”
Author and originator of The Mighty Pen Project David L. Robbins and Carol Piersol of 5th Wall Theatre discuss the upcoming performance of "M*A*S*H." Performers including Richmond magazine's Harry Kollatz Jr. give a sample reading beginning around 5:30.
If you’re under, say, 40, and too overwhelmed by binge watching new shows, you may never have seen an episode of “M*A*S*H.” I’m old enough to have seen the show 's later episodes during their original broadcast and then, in due course, the entire run of the series in its syndicated afternoon afterlife. This is also why I’ll be wearing readers. Because we’re using the scripts. And since I watched M*A*S*H while it was still in producition, I need the vision enhancement.
“M*A*S*H” ran from 1972 to 1983, more than three times longer than the Korean “Conflict” (as it was at first called), that provided the series backdrop. The origin story begins with a 1968 book "MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors" by Dr. H. Richard Hornberger and war correspondent W.C. Heinz, writing together under the name of Richard Hooker. The book received screen adaptation by Robert Altman into the 1970 film, "M*A*S*H."
The show is now regarded as a landmark in U.S. television history. And since the young writers weren’t involved first-hand with Korea, or by extension, the Vietnam War, they often consulted letters and suggestions from veterans for plot points. If only they’d had the Mighty Pen, then.
The non-profit program was founded in late 2014 by Sandston native novelist, playwright and educator David L. Robbins in partnership with the Virginia War Memorial. It’s organized around a 10-week seminar in which veterans may write about their experiences in various formats (here, you can read "A Dragon on His Back" by Malik Hodari, a Mighty Pen Project participant, lawyer and a recipient of the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam). An ambitious ultimate goal is to provide an archive of accounts from across the military spectrum.
Robbins is also directing the evening’s proceedings with the able assistance of RTP board member and stage manager Erinn Perry. Ascended Thespis loves stage managers. Show people wouldn't get anything accomplished without them.
I’m enjoying getting into Henry’s character. The pilot script described him as “underhaired; overweight” which, while not complimentary, is in my case accurate. Costuming can make a difference with interpretation; thus I sought a bucket hat (Target, $15), to which I affix fishing lures (acquired by my office mate, Scott Bunce), and a vintage hunting jacket that I own. Instant Henry. I've already got the befuddled part down.
I’m pleased to be onstage with several actors whose work I’ve often admired. Landon Nagel is a slyly nonchalant and witty Hawkeye Pierce, David Janosik is Hawkeye's co-quipper wingman Trapper John, writer/historian/actor Dean Knight gets weasely with Frank Burns while Wendy Carter – who saved the world several times in various movies and is a competitive synchronized swimmer -- plays Maj. Margaret "Hotlips" Houhlian. The near-clairvoyant Corp. Walter “Radar” O’Reilly is Dean McKnight, a singer/songwriter and curriculum coordinator for another Robbins-inspired educational program, this one for bringing literary publications into Richmond public schools, The Podium Foundation. Courtney Hans, whom I last saw in Free Jambalaya’s wild “Sadie’s Last Painting,” is our Lt. Cutler and the first episode’s narrator. Jasmine Shea, a busy actress and recent transplant to Richmond, is the brainiac Lt. Louise Anderson and one-named object of Hawkeye’s intentions, Lt. Dish and, also, the girl who breaks Radar’s heart. She’s aces on dialects. Andrew Firda is a working actor, moved to Richmond not long ago, and his background includes being broadcast on The Onion as one of a trio of NASA scientists explaining how to date. Quan Chau plays young Ho-Jon who is caught up in an educational scheme of Hawkeye's. And he's the fellow in a glass booth who really upsets Radar. You'll just have to see. Thomas Nowlin, an inveterate recorder of events theatrical with many roles to his credit, is the first episode’s Spear Chucker and narrator for the third. William “Chip” Lauterbach is Father Mulcahy, and he’s an actual veteran of both the military and the Mighty Pen Project.
So there I am, along with reason for befuddlement: this is a stage full of talent and world experience. What happened is, Robbins called me and as is often the case when he calls with an “ask” for one of his projects, it’s just difficult to say “no.” And I mean, it’s Henry Blake. Another American icon for my acting resume. That, and the 4077's P.A. announcer.
Come on out to see us and support a good cause. At each show, veterans and Mighty Pen classmates will introduce the program.
As Frank Burns once said, “It’s nice to be nice… to the nice.”