The theater has always been my life’s work, ever since my high school days in Canada, where I grew up.Â And my current play Tom, Dick and Harry Meet Mary is an autobiographical but fictionalized account of my life as a writer, actor and director.
What has made this piece so fascinating to me is the purgation of emotions that it created as I wrote it and then watched it being performed by a fine group of professional actors — Donna Luisa Guinan, Alex Wells, John Landis and Tom Groenwald, all of whom have appeared in previous productions I have staged at the Odyssey Theatre over the past 15 years.
Tom is a character right out of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. In my teenage days in Canada, Kerouac influenced me a great deal — mainly because of the rebellious feelings that I had developed after being rejected by the mainstream of the Canadian people around me. I was not your average teenager with an Anglo Saxon or French Canadian background. My real name was Starcevich, and in high school, students who couldn’t pronounce my name properly called me “son-of-a-bitch” instead.
When I came to California, I settled in the hippie community of Topanga, well-known as the home or workplace of musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and actors such as Will Geer, who was blacklisted for his political beliefs.
The character of Dick in my play is a draft dodger. Coming from Canada, I had an element of pacifism in my attitude about war. I sided with the American men who left the US and took refuge in Canada instead of being drafted and forced to go to Vietnam and murder innocent people. Â Also like myself, Dick is a man who has undergone the pain and suffering of prostate cancer.
Harry, the third man in my play, is a lawyer. He also was inspired by personal experiences I have had with a legal system that always favored the majority of people and seldom understood or sympathized with the minority, of which I always felt I was a part.Â Many personal tragic experiences in my life are embodied in the character of Harry, such as the loss of both of my wives, June and Jovanka, to cancer, which left me to fend for myself while raising my two daughters, Tanya and Lara.
Mary, the lady in my play, leaves her convent to date men on the internet and explore the outside world. She is also a character drawn from my past life experiences. She parallels the life of my mother Vera Starcevich, who emigrated from Croatia, and had an extremely difficult time adjusting to the ways of the new world after growing up on a peasant farm near Zagreb.Â Being a Catholic, she was often frowned upon by her Protestant neighbors. Sister Mary, in my play, is a character with close ties to my mother’s experiences.
Being from a Slavic background, I have always been influenced by Stanislavski, whose approach to directing always focused on the actor’s personal life experiences, which had to be drawn upon in order to make the characters believable. That is exactly what I have tried to do with Tom, Dick and Harry, Meet Mary.
Tom, Dick and Harry Meet Mary. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles 90025. Opens Friday. Thu- Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm.Â Through December 23. Tickets: $18.00.Â www.OdysseyTheatre.com, 310-477-2055 Ext.Â #2.
***All photos by Miriam Geer
John Stark is a writer, actor, director and producer with more than 40 major productions to his credit including his one-man-show An Evening With Stephen Leacock, which was recorded by RCA at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and latter aired on major television networks. His most recent credit is as producer of the feature film Chekhov and Maria, which has aired on public TV stations, Russian TV and Super Channel Canada. The film was a memorial tribute to his wife Jovanka Bach, who wrote the stage play that Stark successfully directed Off-Broadway. She died in 2006 after a lengthy ordeal with cancer.