Like many good dramas, the new play coming to the Pier next weekend begins on a dark and stormy night.

A car careens and crashes and the lives of two teenagers who hardly knew each other suddenly become intertwined. The story is deeply personal to local playwright, author and historian Jim Harris because it actually happened it him.

“When you reflect on your life, you find these moments that had a bigger effect than anything else,” Harris said. “For me, it was certainly that car accident. We both could have, and maybe even should have, died. It was probably the biggest moment in my life besides getting married and having children and all that.”

“It’s something I think about every day. How lucky we were.”

Decades later, Harris finally put pen to paper and wrote a play about his experience and deep connection with the other man involved in the crash. His lifelong friend will be in the audience next Friday for the premier of “An Illegal Start” an original play written by Harris and directed by Tony-award winning Santa Monican Paul Sand.

“Paul has a really good perspective on the relationship between the two characters and, as a director, I’m delighted that he’s on it because he understands the feelings so well,” Harris said.

Both director say the leading actors, Cameron Tagge and Irish Giron from Layola Marymount University, are perfect for their parts.

When the two friends decided to stage the play inside the Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome, also known as the Merry Go Round building, at the Santa Monica Pier, it truly came full circle for both men. Harris is director of the Pier Corporation and wrote the book on the Pier “Santa Monica Pier: A Century on the Last of the Pleasure Pier.”

As for Sand, who’s career has taken him to Paris, New York and back, life started for him inside the hippodrome. Sand grew up in one of the six apartments inside the 100-year-old building.

“It’s actually how we met. I was finding people to interview about special parts of the
Pier’s history and the apartments were a big part of it,” Harris said. “I found him. We’ve been friends ever since.”

The apartments have since been converted to offices. For the 100-year anniversary of the building last year Harris wrote a brief history of each room and hung it on the office’s door so the employees could read about people like Sand who used to live there.

The premier of An Illegal Start will create a new milestone for the building: the first time a play has been staged on the carousel.

“I just thought it would be a great place to do it but now it’s becoming kind of important to the story,” Sand said.

The location of the car crash was moved to take place near an abandoned Merry Go Round where the characters reunite in six scenes over the course of 18 years. The actors use the entire carousel as a prop. As the 44 wooden horses gallop around the room, the play moves through time. With bleachers and chairs, Harris estimates they can seat about 50 people for each performance.

While the setting and the venue make for interesting theater, Harris says the heart of the play is about friendship.

“There’s just a deep connection between these two characters that we’ve all had in life with certain friends,” Harris said. “My hope is that everybody who sees this play will leave thinking they should call a friend they haven’t seen in a long time.”

The play runs May 5, 6, 11, 12, and 13 at 8 p.m. inside the Hippodrome. Tickets are available through paulsandprojects.com/an-illegal-start.html.

kate@smdp.com

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