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Theater shows inspire talk on real-life issues

Cape Cod Times - 6/19/2017

June 18--Maureen Hourihan's three-act play "Slow Train" started out as a 10-minute fictionalized piece about how she first came to realize her father had Alzheimer's disease.

"This is the most fabulous dad in the world" -- loving, caring, Irish, funny, the Cape Cod writer said when reached by phone last week at a Vermont workshop.

"It's kind of a hard time all the way around," remembers Hourihan, whose father died in 2002 at the age of 72.

Her 2006 play, being presented Friday through June 25 at the Barnstable Comedy Club, explores the range of emotions that families go through when their loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's -- including fear, sorrow, confusion and even the relief of getting a medical diagnosis.

"Slow Train" is one of several shows this summer that put the theme of late-life brain disease or other contemporary social issues onto local stages.

Another is "Mother (and me)," Melinda Buckley's one-woman show about her larger-than-life mother's slip into dementia, which is back on the Cape with two shows July 24 at the Cotuit Center for the Arts.

Like "Slow Train," Buckley's performance will benefit the Alzheimer's Family Support Center of Cape Cod in Brewster, which provides free counseling and support groups for individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia and their families.

On a different but also current issue, Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater on Wednesday will curate an evening of short plays on the topic of gun control. Selections from "24 Gun Control Plays" will benefit WHAT and the For Alison Foundation, which supports the arts in honor of murdered news reporter Alison Parker.

Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, were shot to death by a former colleague at WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia during a live television interview in 2015.

Parker's parents, Andy and Barbara Parker, have since become advocates for sensible gun legislation and will participate in a talkback after Wednesday's reading.

Each performance of "Slow Train" will also include talkbacks, by AFSC cultural director Melanie Braverman.

"Beyond the sheer entertainment value, these theater pieces serve to educate the larger community about life with Alzheimer's disease and dementia," Braverman says. Bringing the playwright's stories to a larger audience helps dispel stigma, fear and shame, she says.

For Jeffry George, WHAT executive artistic director, the decision to put on and direct "24 Gun Control Plays" was spurred by a desire to help the foundation dedicated to the memory of Alison Parker, whose parents are friends of his.

Andy Parker and George played "Aggie boys" in the first national tour of Broadway's "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" in 1979, George says. Cast members have remained in contact in person and via Facebook and were devastated to learn of Alison Parker's death, George says.

Her parents had been planning a trip to Maine and said they'd be happy to make a detour to Wellfleet to talk about sensible gun control and their daughter's legacy, George says. The production was planned well before last week's shootings at a Congressional baseball practice in Virginia, he notes.

While Hourihan says she doesn't want her play to "be a commercial for Alzheimer's" and she wants it to stand on its own as a literary work, she says she understands that with Alzheimer's being "rampant" on the Cape, the subject matter touches many residents as well as summer visitors.

It was at another pivotal stage of Hourihan's life that she says she received encouragement to expand "Slow Train" from 10 minutes to three acts.

When her dying mother was under the care of Beacon Hospice in 2005, Hourihan got into a discussion about the piece with Cynthia Robotham, Beacon's director of volunteers, who asked the writer to add the extra acts.

The play has since been performed in Cotuit, Martha's Vineyard, West Harwich, Orleans and in Florida. For the latest production, Robotham is acting as producer on behalf of Beacon Hospice, an Amedisys company.

Beacon is "extremely sensitive to the fact dementia is a growing epidemic," she says. "We're taking care of many dying dementia patients."

Hospice staff and volunteers use a variety of tools to interact with these patients, including music, touch and toys, "whatever works," Robotham says. "You're still a human being. There is a person in there."


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