The Marcel Weiss Forum Theatre at the La Jolla Playhouse is an intimate space with 300 seats. On a warm summer Sunday evening, 200 people attended a reading of Radioman, a play based on the writings of Eric Hollenbeck’s book of poetry “Uncle Sam’s tour guide to South East Asia.” After the performance, the Playhouse Artistic Programs Manager, Jacole Kitchen introduced the audience to Radioman playwright, James McManus. The Donora, Pennsylvania native rose to applause and took center stage to field questions from the audience, a lot of which were newcomers to theater.
“Did Veterans really build a replica of the Lincoln hearse?” an audience member starts the conversation.
“Yes,” James responds and sits, carefully arranging his bright flannel shirt. He wears black boots and charcoal slacks so without the stark contrast it would be difficult to see where James begins and the black stage floor ends.
The first project of the Blue Ox Veterans Program (in Humboldt County, California where Radioman is set) was to create a historically accurate replica of the hearse that carried President Lincoln for the final leg of his national funeral procession. The hearse was the centerpiece during the 150th anniversary commemorative ceremonies honoring President Lincoln which were held in Springfield, Illinois May 1-3, 2015.
The Blue Ox Veterans, working from the only known photograph (the original hearse was destroyed by fire) re-created the wooden frame and chamber of the hearse, as well as all the decorative metal castings which were then gold and silver leafed.
“Do you have any veterans in your family?” I ask.
“Both of my grandfathers were in World War II. I have a large extended Irish family and many of my uncles, cousins served in Vietnam. I had a major baseline of understanding the Vietnam War experience before I even began this project. Two of my best friends are Marines who served in Desert Storm. I hear them talking every time we put up this piece.”
The reflection can be heard in James voice as the sounds reverberate through theater walls. As if he is trying to reach those returning veterans through his pen and voice, to let them know they are not alone, many have traveled down the same path, and many stand ready to help. James has high aspirations for Radioman; to reach audiences nationwide, so don’t miss out if it reaches a theater near you.