The Santa Monica Pier, which is over 100 years old, is one of the most popular landmarks in the country. From all over the world, tens of millions of tourists have visited the Pier. Hollywood has featured the Pier and surrounding areas in dozens of movies. The list includes: “Mutiny On the Bounty,” “Elmer Gantry,” “Inside Daisy Clover,” “The Sting,” “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and “Forrest Gump.” (When Forrest jogged across the U.S. he jogged to the end of the Pier!)
Personally, I have many fond memories of the Pier. When I was 7 my father took me and my best friend, Denny, to fish off the Pier. We put bait on our hooks and lowered our lines with the highest of hopes. We were delighted as we caught perch after perch.
My dad taught us how to properly clean the fish after which my mother breaded it before broiling. We thought it was just amazing to eat dinner from what we caught that day on the wonderful Pier.
The idea of the Pier ever being demolished was unthinkable. And yet numerous times the Pier almost met that fate. In 1973, the City Council approved of the City Manager’s plan to demolish it and construct an artificial island including a 1500 room hotel and convention center. Outraged residents organized and applied enough political pressure that the plan was scrapped. (The group included the late journalists Bill Bauer and, in 1983, Peggy Clifford, as both loved their precious Santa Monica.)
Jim Harris, local historian, Deputy Director of the Pier Corporation and playwright, chronicled the controversial and dramatic events in his play, “Save the Pier.” Directed by Paul Sand, longtime Santa Monica resident and Tony Award-winning actor, the play debuted in October 2015. It was artfully staged outdoors at the end of the Pier by Sand.
“Save the Pier” played again in September 2016 and will run in April 2018 as part of the Pier’s annual programming from then on. The lesson learned from the play is the importance for all Santa Monicans to remain active and ever-vigilant in local politics.
And now I’ll get to the “by popular demand” in my title. (Those readers who dubbed me “Rambling Jack,” I can hear them saying, “Finally!”) Harris and Sand have another creative and crowd-pleasing production staged on the Pier but this time It’s in a locale never used for such a purpose in the Pier’s history and maybe in the country’s.
A two-man play, “An Illegal Start,” is Harris’ semi-autobiographical story set in the 1980’s in rural western Colorado. During a powerful thunder and lightning storm, two teenage boys, strangers, endure a near death experience on an isolated country road as a result of a horrific traffic accident. (The only other performance of “An Illegal Start” was a public reading at a radio station in Grand Junction, CO, where the accident actually took place.)
Still in shock, and desperately needing shelter from the dangerous weather, the pair find an abandoned Merry-Go-Round. And that’s where the Santa Monica carousel, inducted into the National Registry of Historic Places in 1987, is the perfect setting. It’s not a backdrop but more like a character in the play as are the beautifully painted horses which seem to come to life before our eyes. The carousel spins at crucial moments and the music and mirrors, the lighting and chilling thunder, all add to the dramatic atmosphere.
The play is compelling, occasionally funny and ultimately poignant. The two bond over what they’ve been through and, while the play covers only a 15-year period where they reunite, in reality they’re friends to this day. The two actors, Cameron Tagge and Irish Giron, both from Loyola Marymount University, give authentic performances which pulls you into their story.
This production is one of hopefully many to come from Santa Monica Public Theater founded by Sand with the goal of bringing unique and extraordinary theatrical experiences to our unique and extraordinary city. At its core, “An Illegal Start” is a play about the power of friendship. Staged in the intimate 50-seat venue of the Carousel where every seat is so close to the action, it’s also just a lot of fun.
The good news for theater-goers is “An Illegal Start” has extended its run to include May 19,20, 25 & 26 and may extend into June. The bad news is tickets are going fast.
Well, that’s it for this week, gang. To those who gave me the less-than-flattering nickname, this is “Rambling Jack” signing off.
Tickets for “An Illegal Start” are available on Evenbrite and at www.paulsandprojects.com
or call (424) 372-7678 . Jack can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo courtesy Agi.