Friday, August 5, 2016

The Best Medicine

A favorite compliment came in letter form and said I always seemed to add laughter to a room. Tonight I got thanked for that.

When a friend messaged me about my Friday night plans, I thought sure he'd want to join me once I shared that I was going to a benefit staged reading of the TV show M*A*S*H* at Richmond Triangle Players. But no.

"Nah, saw an ad for that a while back. It didn't really trip my trigger."

Well, it did mine. Even with a life-long disdain for TV, there were, in my youth, a few shows I regularly watched and M*A*S*H* was one of them.

And not prime time, but reruns and eventually - gasp! - on VHS and even when I knew the plots, I still laughed at the writing and delivery. Both appeared effortless, which of course means executed by terribly talented people.

Tonight I needed a good laugh. I'd had a late lunch with a friend, but we'd focused on heavy topics. Then afterward, during an interview discussing furniture, the interviewee managed to take a tangent from chairs to the unfairness of Hillary not being prosecuted for crimes against humanity, I kid you not.

Whoa, there, buckaroo, I didn't give up a cozy porch guest bed and come back from the river to listen to your political rantings.

So when I set out, just my trigger and me, I knew I'd spend the evening not just laughing, but doing good because the performance was a benefit for the Mighty Pen Project, which offers university level writing classes for veterans so their service memories can be archived.

This I can get behind.

The project was founded by local author David L. Robbins (who also directed tonight's readings) but it was the Mutt and Jeff team of Vietnam and writing class vets Glen and Richard who did the explaining about how much easier it is for vets to write their memories rather than speaking them.

They encouraged all of us to tell any vets we know about the project, because, as Richard said, "The writing class changed me." Translation: cool and worthwhile project, both historically and in humanitarian terms.

Tonight's production began with Dean McKnight as Radar playing guitar and singing the theme song, "Suicide is Painless" as the audience sang along, before he and the eleven others in the cast took us through the pilot episode, along with other first season gems such as "Love Story" and "Germ Warfare."

Great casting was the key to the pleasure of the reading with tightly-wound Dean Knight as Frank Burns, Harry Kollatz in fishing hat complete with lures as the oblivious Colonel Henry Blake and the blond and ever-indignant Wendy Carter as Hot Lips.

Like those standouts, the dream team of Landon Nagel (Hawkeye) and David Janosik (Trapper) seemed to have done their homework, ably imitating the cadence and offhand delivery of the original actors to great effect. A fair amount of staging added to the visual pleasure as "documents" were signed or a syringe was administered to the backside.

What I'd forgotten (or blocked out) was the political incorrectness of the '70s, what with the sole black character played by Thomas Nowlin called Spearchucker and the priest played by Chip Lauterbach, a former Marine and graduate of the Mighty Pen Project, nicknamed Dago Red.

Awkward. Not so much these days.

But, man, I laughed a lot. The constant commentary and patter of Hawkeye and Trapper is timeless and the repeated interactions between the prescient Radar and the ditsy Henry Blake ("Radar, will you stop saying what I'm thinking?" "Well, one of us has to, sir.") still hilarious after all these years.

When the narrators would describe vignettes between the talking scenes, I could almost see the TV episode playing in my head and it has to be (what?) 30-some years since I last saw an episode of M*A*S*H*.

Each 25-minute episode was over in a flash and after the last one, the cast took a bow. I was sorry to see the well-executed reading come to an end.

From behind me, the author unexpectedly leaned over and said, "Thanks for all your loud laughter" like he really meant it.

No problem. When my trigger is fully tripped, it's loud.

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