Everyday Orinda – September 2022

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Pigs, pearls and Plays

    Finally, the year I don’t struggle with my “How I Spent My Summer” essay. I co-wrote a play, Of Pearls and Swine, which debuted on stage in July. A labor of love that did not involve maternal self-sacrifice. What a novel concept. And I’m here to tell you, it felt great. Optimism abounds for empty-nesterhood.
    As a fledgling Thelma, I needed a Louise to make this endeavor happen. Mine appeared in the form of my cousin Barbara, who lives in the Midwest and shares my untamed passion for ancestry and roots research.
    Barbara clipped an advertisement in the local newspaper of her hometown of Fremont, Nebraska, for a playwright’s competition to be held at the town’s Opera House, a gorgeous architectural relic built in 1888 and in need of massive renovation.
    Neither of us had written a stage play, but as the mother of three students who participated in numerous Glorietta and OIS theatrical productions, I had seen more than my fair share of scripts. Plus, nobody knows me in Nebraska. I could accept a humiliating failure – if it came to that – provided I could remain simply “Barb’s weird cousin from California.”
    It was actually a no-brainer landing on the topic. Since we are first cousins and share a love of family history, we decided to weave together two stories we often heard our grandmother tell.
    The main storyline involves Pearl, as our young grandmother, and her relatives as adolescent farm kids, taunting a mean old pig right before a family wedding. You know, the homespun, “vintage” farmhouse-style weddings we pay ridiculous bucks to replicate today.
    To clarify, Barb, who is older, often heard Gram Pearl tell this pig story. I never did. I was grandchild number 25, the caboose, so I think our exhausted matriarch was way over with storytelling by the time I came along – a humorous point that is brought up in the play when past and present collide.
    The additional plot line woven throughout involves this same pig four years prior, when a Catholic priest insists our newly-widowed Great Great Grandmother Theresa tithe him as “charitable” restitution for conducting her husband’s funeral. Theresa, a devout but fierce widow, would not be pushed around, and Barb and I are proud to descend from her. Moral of the story: don’t mess with ornery old pigs or ornery old women.
    Short story long, our script won the playwright’s competition in June, 2021. We received valuable critiques so we could revamp and improve the momentum over the winter months, resulting in a three-day performance run in Fremont in July.
    All the actors were either Midland College drama students, recent Midland grads or involved with Fremont’s community theater scene. One of the actors was another cousin. The role of the mean old pig was played by a delightfully animated fifth grader named Piper. And, stay with me here, one more cousin, Barbara’s older brother who is an artist and musician, wrote and performed two original songs, which really made the whole shebang feel quite professional.
    Community theater means the actors were not paid, and I still grow a bit weepy remembering the heart, energy and enthusiasm each one of them threw into their performance.
    To see actors take words you wrote on a piece of paper and breathe life, personality and soul into your characters?

Let’s just say Barb and I will be chasing this high for a really long time. And yes, we do hope to shop it around and find another life for it. But first, I pause to savor the presence of my youngest daughter before she heads off to study in Madrid.
    Tell the stories, and ask to hear the stories – before it’s too late. I always thought the “Elder Reports” required of the OIS students in eighth grade were one of the most valuable assignments ever issued.
    Our script was written during the pandemic. I often reflect on the way we, as humans, resorted to stories to comfort us during those trying times.
    As children, we relied on stories to set us at ease before the lights went out at bedtime. As adults who felt as vulnerable as children during lockdown, we relied on stories once again – perhaps in the form of novels, or other times in the form of binge-watching HBO.
    Become your family’s collector of stories, the best inheritance you will ever receive.

Mimi Bommarito can be reached at editor@theorindanews.com.

(Joyce Dixon, Photographer)
First cousins Barbara Perry Dahlhauser of Omaha, NE (left) and Orinda News columnist Mimi Bommarito, pose with a childhood photo of their grandmother, Pearl Schaal, the main character in a lighthearted "comedy with a message" script that was recently performed in Fremont, Nebraska.

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