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Posts Tagged ‘L.A. Times’

A few years ago I read that in this world that there are over 200 civil wars going on at any one time. We don’t hear about most of them because it would be sensory overload. But when things reach a certain level then the press or the government makes Americans aware of what’s going on. In the little traveling I have done outside the states I have sometimes wondered what keeps certain countries from total collapse.

Seeing Lynn Nottage’s play Ruined takes in a place that has collapsed. Set in the war torn Demoratic Republic of Congo (formerly know as Zaire and the Belgian Congo).  It’s a country that had over 5 million people die in the Second Congo war between 1998-2003. It was also a war where accounts of rape and other brutal acts of violence were widespread. (Nottage has pointed out that though the war is over violence on women continues in that region.)

If you’ve seen the movie Hotel Rwanda which took place is the neighboring country of Rwanda in 1996, and later spilled over into Zaire, you begin to have an understanding of the situation. Another slightly older reference is when the area was known as the Congo Free State it was the setting for Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness which was published over 100 years ago (and for which in turn was the beginning point for Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.)

Somewhere in hearing the modern day suffering of women in the Demoratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Nottage decided there was something worth exploring. According to an article by Patrick Pacheco in the L.A. Times Nottage spent two months “at a Uganda refugee camp interviewing women who had been raped and brutalized in the fierce Civil War that has wracked the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo for decades.”

He quotes Nottage about her desire to write a play on what she had seen and heard, “I thought to myself, ‘This play will be the ruin of me.’ I knew I wanted to tell a story that was not agitprop, that was universal, epic and unabashedly theatrical. Something truthful and yet joyful. And I didn’t know how I was ever going to do that.”

But somehow she did and won the Pulitzer Play in drama this year. I was fortunate to see the play in its last weekend in New York this past Saturday. It’s a powerful piece of drama and instantly took me back to high school when an African-America creative writing teacher showed our class the film A Raisin in the Sun and I began to have a whole new understanding of drama beyond Smoking and the Bandit. That class is also where I first heard the name Zora Neale Hurston. A writer who Nottage has been compared to.

Nottage’s skill as a playwright did not come from nowhere. She was raised in Brooklyn around a family of storytellers and where she began writing plays as a teenage and later graduated from Brown University and has an MFA in Drama from Yale. While working for Amnesty International she wrote a short play called Poof! that she submitted to the Actors Theater of Louisville where it won a competition and she was off to the races.

Since then many of her plays have been performed; Mud, River and Stone, Por’Knockers, Crumbs from the Table, and Intimate Apparel. And in 2007 she was named a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award.

Before Ruined found its way to the stage at the Manhatten Theatre Club it was first commissioned and produced by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The performance I saw in New York was theater at its best. It’s hard to be transplanted from a beautiful summer day in the city to some harsh realities in war-torn Africa–but somehow Nottage and the actors made it as seemless a transition as taking the subway from Grand Central Station to the Bronx.

And part of Nottage’s gift and talent as a writer is show us an incredibly painful world full of moral ambiguity and depravity and to weave a story of humor, humanity and hope.

Scott W. Smith


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There will be funeral service today in Hawaii for screenwriter & novelist Jack Lewis who died on May 24, 2009.  In one of those odd coincidences that sometimes happens, May 24 happens to be when I began writing the post called Screenwriting Quote of the Day# 84 (Lt. Colonel Jack Lewis) that posted on May 25 for Memorial Day.

His daughter Kehau Kula released this statement: “Lt Col. Jack Lewis died Saturday May 24, 2009. He died due to a fight with lung cancer. He lived a long and celebrated life. A war hero, stunt man, book writer, editor, business owner, and father to three sons and two daughters as well as a grandfather to three grandsons and five grand daughters. He was loved and respected. We will all miss him.”

According to the L.A. Times obituary on Jack he was a machine-gunner in World War II and a combat correspondent in Korea as well as a technical advisor on the film Sands of Iwo Jima where he began a friendship with John Wayne, and was a stuntman for the 1955 film Mr. Roberts. All that on top of all the books, articles, and screenplays he wrote over the years including his stories from his Hollywood years, White Horse, Black Hat —A Quarter Century on Hollywood’s Poverty Row.

I knew Jack was born in Iowa and graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Iowa, but I just learned yesterday that he spent much of his childhood in North English, Iowa. Again showing that wild adventures can begin in small places.

Scott W. Smith

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“I’ve been told that I’m not smart enough to realize I can’t tilt windmills and win, but tenacity has a life and a way all its own, I’ve found. If one approach to a problem doesn’t work, figure out how to go around it”
Jack Lewis

Since today is Memorial Day I wanted to find a quote from a screenwriter with a military background and landed on Lt. Colonel Jack Lewis, USMCR (Ret) in part because he just happens to be a honored veteran and was born right here in Iowa.

Before he joined the Marines and served in World War II Lewis was a writer, selling his first short story when he was 14 years-old for five dollars. He has gone on to write an estimated 6,000 magazine articles and work on more than ten films as a screenwriter.

He was born in 1924 and joined the Marines at age 18. According to Wikipedia after the War he earned a degree in Jouralism  from the University of Iowa and later returned to active duty during the Korean War where he earned a Bronze Star as Combat Correspondent and Photographer.

In addition to writing screenplays (A Yank in Viet Nam), he wrote the novel Tell it to the Marines, and his memoirs on Hollywood, White Horse, Black Hat —A Quarter Century on Hollywood’s Poverty Row. In total, he’s had more than 30 books published including Mojave. Lewis is still writing (under the name C. Jack Lewis) and living in a beach house in Hawaii. Just this month (May 09) at age 84 he had an article in Leatherneck (Magazine of the Marines.)

“Two of my characters in my mystery series are probably somewhat autobiographical.  Charlie Cougar is a Mescalero Apache who has been a stuntman, a drunk and a rodeo rider.  I’m a quarter Mescalero and I’ve been all of those things.  Sam Light is a newspaper man who has been a Marine, a reporter, a drunk, an editor and a hobo.  I’ve been all of those things, too.  But at least, I’m writing about things of which I have a basic knowledge!”
Jack Lewis

Update: From the odd connection section I found out that when Lewis and his parents moved from Florida from Iowa when he was two, he lived in Winter Park. Winter Park, Florida is where I lived for 13 years before moving to Iowa. (Still checking to find out where he spent time in Iowa beside college in Iowa City.)

Update June 10: Found out today that Jack died on May 24 of this year. Just one day before I posted this article. I also found out from someone who worked with Jack for many years that Jack spent much of his youth in North English, Iowa which is a small town southeast of Iowa City. Here’s Jack’s obituary from the L.A. Times.

Scott W. Smith

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