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Gerald Carpenter: Center Stage Drama to View History as More Than Spectator Sport

Center Stage Theater will offer two performances — at 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday, July 24 — of Kiddo and Patty Hearst, written, directed, and produced by Claudia H. McGarry.

Billed as a “professional reading theater presentation” with “Readers [who] are from varied backgrounds with varied occupations,” it is not crystal clear how fully-staged this production will be, though there will be some “costuming” (by Lisa Dorney) and live music (by Beverly Van Wingerden, Kevin and Paul McGarry, Christina Apostolopoulos, Ashley Jones and Nick Rattray).

The cast includes Sheila Murphy as the Narrator, Ashley Jones as Marta, Peter Rojas as Don Saunders, Caitlin McCarthy as Dori Saunders, Chella Courington as the Hippie, Tawnie Fransen as Beth, Michele Peterson as Joan Collins, Nick Rattray as Steve, Ted Chiles as the Doctor, Homer Arrington as the policeman, Kathleen Russell Hardin as Carla, Victoria Charters as Robin and Caitlin McCarthy as Patty Hearst, with Beverly Van Wingerden doing the “Voices by Journalist.”

According to the Center Stage website, “the story Kiddo and Patty Hearst is about a girl, Marta, who is 17 during the summer of ’74. She lives with her alcoholic writer father who affectionately refers to her as ‘Kiddo.’ The summer is one of mounting tension as Watergate happens, Nixon is readying to resign and in Southern California, Patty Hearst is hiding out with the SLA. Marta finds a strange connection to the young woman being held hostage as she herself struggles to grow up and find peace in the world.”

There are some years that are so thickly book-marked with significant events that they seem to condense an entire era. Take, for instance, 1956 (Suez Crisis, Hungarian Uprising, Elvis Presley, the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria), or 1963 (the fall of Diem in Vietnam, the advent of The Beatles, the murder of President Kennedy), or 1968 (the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the chaos of the Democratic Convention in Chicago, the election of Richard Nixon) and so on.

Claudia McGarry seems to make a pretty good case for 1974 being such a year.

Patricia Hearst, scion of the Hearst newspaper dynasty, was kidnapped from her Berkeley apartment by the so-called “Symbionese Liberation Army” Feb. 4, 1974, the day we moved into our house in San Diego County.

The first thing we did, of course, was hook up the television, and I remember catching snatches of the story as I carried furniture through the living room.

We continued to follow Ms. Hearst’s story with interest — and sympathy — throughout the next 19 months, until her arrest (not rescue, mind you), and then, afterwards, through her trial and conviction for bank-robbery.

Most Americans, who considered her a victim rather than a perpetrator, were outraged. Meanwhile, that summer, President Nixon resigned rather than face trial for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and Hank Aaron hit his 715th career home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s record.

Seventeen is a vulnerable age, and it always has been (see Booth Tarkington). The things that happen to us — and around us — at that age, often forge the templates for our emotional lives.

We are still doing (mostly) as we are told, but the time looms when we will be deciding things for ourselves. When I was seventeen, in addition to the friends I held dear, the girls I desperately loved and the teachers who saw possibilities in me that I as yet could not, there were the birth of The Beatles and the death of JFK.

For the 17-year-old Marta, “Kiddo,” the details are different — as 1974 was different from 1963 — yet she is just as unable to help Patty Hearst as I was to raise President Kennedy from the dead.

That is the lesson we all learn, usually when we are 17: we can’t change history, but history changes us all the time.

I hope the performance of Kiddo and Patty Hearst is as effective as the concept of it is evocative.

Tickets to Kiddo and Patty Hearst are $20 and can be purchased at the door, by phone at 805.963.0408 or online at centerstagetheater.com.

According to the Center Stage website, “all seating is general admission. All ticket sales are final at the time of purchase. There are no refunds or exchanges. For all performances late seating is on a limited basis, or is not allowed at all once the performance begins. Please plan your arrival time accordingly.”

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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