Arts and Entertainment

'Only a Ridgeline Away': Sober at heart, and powerful

Tony Vivenzio is Mooney and Dorian Oliver is Slater in ‘Only a Ridgeline Away.’  - Jane K. Fox
Tony Vivenzio is Mooney and Dorian Oliver is Slater in ‘Only a Ridgeline Away.’
— image credit: Jane K. Fox

Following the successful run of Ed Strum’s comedy “The Connoisseurs” at San Juan Community Theatre comes the drama “Only a Ridgeline Away” by island writer Miguel Herbert.

The piece is sober at heart and, SJCT executive director Merritt Olsen says, “It is powerful.”

“It’s a really good script. Herbert is not a stranger to playwriting and, of course, it’s his story.”

The narrative of the play comes from a real incident in Herbert’s life. “The play is the result of a pact that occurred between me and my friend when we were in our early 50s. We had become best friends in Vietnam,” he said. He described how he and his friend, Michael T. Mooney, decided that “if and when the time came, if we needed to transition into a care facility, we wanted to be together. ‘Ridgeline’ is a product of a year and a half ago me saying what if this happened, what if that came to fruition?”

The play imagines the two men in a care facility in Napa Valley. “I said to myself, 'We’d be hell on wheels.'”

Herbert describes the play as being “a cross between ‘Grumpy Old Men’ and ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.’

Herbert’s artistic and emotional investment in the play — he is directing as well as writing it — has proved both taxing and rewarding. He cites producing the show as “the most important project of my life.”

Olsen believes the audience will reap the benefits. “I don’t see any reason why this isn’t going to be a really memorable show for the theater. I’m thrilled for him, he has worked so hard.”

Herbert, of Seattle, moved to San Juan Island nine years ago. He began writing drama in 1985, first as a vehicle for his own acting career, and later because he discovered he loved it. It was a love that proved well placed as he would go on to win three Equity Waiver awards in 1986 with his piece “The Big Ball Game.”

“Only a Ridgeline Away” features Dorian Oliver as Slater, Tony Vivenzio as Mooney, Lynda Guernsey as Nurse Karcher, and Julie Laidlaw as the General.

Due to some language and content, “Only a Ridgeline Away” has an R rating, but Herbert says the audience should not expect any graphic violence. This is, after all, an exploration of enduring friendship.

“What this play is supposed to be all about is the incredible lifelong bond between two men,” Herbert says. “They’re not going to surrender, they are having a good a time.”

— “Only a Ridgeline Away”: In SJCT's Gubelman Theatre. Run dates: Aug. 26-28, 8 p.m.; Aug. 29, 5 p.m.; Sept. 2-4, 8 p.m.; Sept. 5, 5 p.m. Tickets: Adults, $18; students, $9; RUSH, $5.

REVIEW: Howard Schonberger: ‘Only a Ridgeline Away’ will touch your heart and soul

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