Fertile Ground Portland

A Festival of New Works Blog

Inspired by… Cancer and Beauty and a 9 Year Old Boy January 19, 2012

Filed under: Inspirations,Penguins of Ithaca,the creative process,the writing process — fertilegroundpdx @ 7:31 pm

What inspires a Festival project? Here’s one extraordinary answer from playwright David Berkson.

Fifteen years ago, I began tutoring 9 year old boy named Eric. My new student had recently been diagnosed with leukemia, and was being homeschooled. Told by his family of a voracious appetite Shakespeare, I was asked if I could take an hour a week to help foster his burgeoning interest.

Eking out a living as a professional actor in San Francisco, I was happy for the work. And I was especially pleased to meet my new charge; even at our first interview, Eric wasted no time. He wanted to talk about The Merchant of Venice. Bothered and fascinated with the Bard’s treatment of the Jewish moneylender Shylock, Eric wrestled with the most troublesome issues in the play before finally asking: “Was Shakespeare anti-Symmetrical?”

Most malapropisms reveal ignorance. Eric’s revealed knowledge. And curiosity. Read the rest of the story.

You can check out his piece, The Penguins of Ithaca,  January 27, 28, 29 @ 7:30pm at the Northwest Academy Blue Box Theatre, 1130 SW Main St, Portland OR 97205. Tickets available through www.fertilegroundpdx.org.


One Response to “Inspired by… Cancer and Beauty and a 9 Year Old Boy”

  1. Nate Says:

    It’s hard to say what this play doesn’t have…well, no predictable Lifetime Channel or sitcom plot lines, that’s for sure.

    I just saw this tonight. The Penguins of Ithaca is a call to action. A call to action to get past that internal voice we all have…questioning the appropriate words to say, the right behaviors to exhibit and instead challenges us to simply “do.” To realize how much more we can accomplish by taking an unfaltering step forward…to provide incomparable support for another human being, such is the role EJ becomes for Carl, a child facing an unimaginable struggle with disease.

    It’s a genuine (and sometimes hilarious) dissection of the social mores and subsequent guilt of offending said mores we each battle with and an eventual catharsis that comes about in a way you could never, ever, predict.

    The play is comforting in its ability to arouse the hero in all of us. A hero unlike the oversimplified Marvel character or even the quirky, yet supportive archetype Seth Rogan represents in the recent film 50/50. Protagonist EJ himself would protest such a title…humbly denying any such heroic acts as he quietly becomes a critical component in his friend’s medically-compromised life. The Penguins of Ithaca answers the question of who a true hero really is: one whose actions garnish not publicity, nor fulfill a required credit hour or pay the bills or even necessarily wash away an intangible guilt or provide redemption through altruism. No – a true hero is one who gives selflessly and repeatedly when a need arises and never thinks to do otherwise.

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