On Theater: Playwright from Surf City wins award

Huntington Beach resident Eric Eberwein had little use for theater during his years at Edison High School. But when he went on to Cal State Long Beach to pursue a degree in journalism, he took some theater arts classes to complete his degree requirements.

That changed his mind in a hurry. Today, Eberwein is a practicing playwright whose script, called "The Return Engagement," recently captured a prize at a playwriting festival presented by the FUSION Theatre Co. in New Mexico.

His play was chosen as one of seven winners from a submission pool of 748 scripts from 43 states and nine countries. It'll be staged in its world premiere in Albuquerque, as part of FUSION's 2012 New Works Fest from June 7 through 10.

"I submit scripts to theaters, festivals and contests nationwide, as do many playwrights," Eberwein said. "My full-length play 'Great Western Wanderlust' was just produced by the Hunger Artists Theatre Co. in Fullerton."

His winning script, "The Return Engagement," centers on an Iraq war veteran in conversation with a teenager who knows him well and who turns out to be his younger self.

"When I was going to CSULB, I used to take the OCTA 1 bus home and catch it in front of the Long Beach VA hospital," he recalled. "I would often wait for the bus with veterans and had some long conversations with some of them.

"Nearly all of them had headed to the VA for treatment for PTSD," he added. "I remember those conversations well, and those conversations became the seed of the play."

Theater has been Eberwein's primary focus since those career-changing college classes.

"In high school, I had no interest in theater whatsoever," he commented. "My perception at that time was that theater was 'The Music Man,' 'Godspell,' Neil Simon, 'Bye Bye Birdie' and so forth. There was nothing exciting or dangerous about it."

After taking the theater classes, Eberwein found "this whole amazing world of contemporary American theater, contemporary world theater, which stunned me," he declared. "It was so intellectually sharp and so engaged with today's reality, it set me on a path to becoming a playwright.

"Most people do not know how hard-hitting and provocative and funny and moving American theater is today. Their image of theater is about 40 years out of date."

Is there a chance that Eberwein's play will be produced on his home turf?

"Possibly — if a local theater does a short play festival, for example," he said. "The play actually had a staged reading in the Orange County Playwrights Alliance's Discoveries series about four years ago at the Newport Theatre Arts Center."

Hopefully, "The Return Engagement" will have a return engagement on an Orange County stage, where local theatergoers can assess the talents of Huntington Beach playwright Eric Eberwein.

TOM TITUS covers local theater for the Independent.

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