"There are things we learn about growing up," Paul Linke said, "and there are some things that we never talk about. Death is one of them. Why? It's the real f-word, the biggest four-letter word: Fear."
Fear is just one of the many emotions the actor deals with in "Time Flies When You're Alive" (Wednesdays at the Powerhouse), a one-man, partially scripted reminiscence of the cancer death of his wife, Francesca (Chex) Draper.
"In January, 1986, we learned she was going to die," he said. "From then on, we were pretty much at home. Four weeks later we were really at home. One week later she was in bed." Four weeks later, she was dead--and Linke was a widower with three small children.
"Of course, the experience was very hard. But we had the luxury of knowing she was dying; we could make the best out of it. It was almost like when we'd done our home birth, that working together. And there was a tremendous amount of growth and love. It's an interesting paradox: The worst possible thing happened, but positive things came out of it. I became 'Mr. Mom,' Mr. PTA, this person who did the shopping, dropped the kids at school--a whole evolution because of this woman I'd spent 10 years of my life with."
Ironically, Linke's last stint at the Powerhouse (where, long ago, his wife had planted the flower garden) came earlier this year playing a Hillside Strangler-esque killer in Jack Bender's "Under the Freeway Sign."
"One of the big aspects of grief is anger," he said. "And anger was hard for me, hard to be in touch with. After all, who do you get angry with? Your wife for dying? God? Yourself for not doing more? So anger never seemed an appropriate response. But this character, Bill, was a really angry person. Of course, it was a play--not real--but somehow doing it was a kind of a catharsis. And it was good for me: It got me out of the house and back into the theater."
The actor believes that this piece, too, will serve a positive purpose. "It's life affirming," he said. "People respond to that. It's also part of my own overall healing, finally putting this to bed."
The aftermath of another, far more public death, sets the stage for Emily Mann's "Execution of Justice," opening Saturday at the Colony Studio Theatre.
"It's a political docudrama dealing with the Dan White trial," said director Todd Nielsen. (White was tried and convicted of the 1978 slayings of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.) "As the trial is presented on stage, we also have a chorus of 'witnesses': residents of the city, people who share pain, their outrage, their sorrow. So it's very choral, a cross between Greek tragedy and Brechtian drama--Brechtian in that it has a very presentational style and multimedia elements: video, a large projection screen and live camera.
"It also has a poetic quality. In each scene, there are three to four voices, a counterpoint working against the larger scope. At the time, the city itself was on trial; people were evaluating their justice system: who sets precedents, what the law can and can't do. And (the play) presents different sides of the case--those people who were angry, others who were sympathetic. Audiences can look at it, think about it, understand it. Ultimately, they become the jury, evaluating the facts--and making up their own minds."
CRITICAL CROSSFIRE: Gina Wendkos' 1950s/1980s treatise on the war of the sexes, "Boys and Girls/Men and Women," is currently playing at the Odyssey Theatre.
Said The Times' Sylvie Drake: "Essentially (the play) is about the epidemic and unwelcome neurosis that has crept into male/female relations. But this is not a lecture. Wendkos knows how to listen and how to cull essentials from the verbal parries of these players--and she knows how to write exaggerated dialogue that rings absolutely true."
From Sandra Kreiswirth in the Daily Breeze: "Wendkos' '50s teen-agers may start out as Frankie and Annette, but they get wise pretty fast. By the '80s, they're tough guys and chicks who talk the same talk, walk the same walk and are willing to take it to the brink before they admit that all they're looking for is love. They're a hard-edged, defensive, foul-mouthed bunch, each desperately seeking a mate."
Said Drama-Logue's Polly Warfield: "Wendkos is so skilled and the cast is so adept, that the play moves with irresistible momentum and stunning, shocking impact, resulting in exciting theater. Director Wendkos serves playwright Wendkos well, and so do her actors. Even more to their credit, they create characters with depth and dimension. Despite grievous flaws, including immaturity and stupidity, these people are real."
Noted L.A. Weekly's Craig Lee: "None of the confrontations or revelations comes as any big surprise, yet Wendkos has done a credible job of using vulgarity to expose vulnerability. With its often wildly funny dialogue, energetic staging and performances finely tuned to archetype, this is a crisp, entertaining contemporary slice of modern psycho-pop theatrics."
Madeline Shaner, in the B'nai Brith Messenger, dubbed the piece "a kind of sexual 'Chorus Line,' " adding that "Wendkos writes honestly, but the truth can get graphic at this socioeconomic level; amorality and vulgarity are spelled the same. Buyer beware. Acting is all-around excellent, direction is fast and imaginative, multidimensional performance art by Wendkos is superb. Language on a scale of A to Z is definitely XXX."