Benjamin play sampler a delight for Brown Bag

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By Gina Velasquez

A three-play sampler by Robert F. Benjamin was performed for the Brown Bag at Fuller Lodge on June 5.
The act was not a group of skits, but rather an interactive theater experience where Benjamin answered audience questions, mainly about what the inspiration for each piece was. Beth Kennedy Jones was on board to cast the actors and direct the stories.
The first play sample, was titled “Treason,” a historical story about the first person who printed the Declaration of Independence in 1777 with all the signatures, who ironic for the times, was a woman. The script was decorated with both old fashioned and modern dialogue weaved together. The back and forth banter between the historically accurate Mary Katharine Goddard — played by Roxanne Tapia, and her male counterpart Edward — played by Warren Houghteling — were an appropriate male vs. female mix of opinions. Idea came from a talk about two years ago by Pat Schroeder, the former congresswoman from Colorado. She spoke of the influence of the “foremothers” of the country. Benjamin was intrigue by the history of Goddard and did some extended research. “The piece is based on history fact, but I threw in my own speculations and opinions,” he said.
The next play sample, “No Easy Points,” is about the fear of aging intertwined with one of the characters losing a tennis match and equating that loss to his own feelings of self-worth. The man vs. woman argument is also present among the husband and wife’s discussion about “the slippery slope of aging” and changes in life, with many subtle double entendres sprinkled throughout the dialogue. The wife Alison, played by Pat Beck mocks and teases husband Jeff, played by Eric Bjorklund, but all ends well. “I enjoy writing short play about different aspects of growing old with grace and humor,” Benjamin said.
It is similar to Salt and Pepper, a full length play most recently performed at the Toolshed in Dixon. However, it is a separate entity that is not a segment of the longer piece.
The final sample was “Re-Stager” about a man trying to sell a house and is angry when he learns a large fundraiser event is going to be held there in two hours. The man played by Houghteling is on the phone during the duration and performed the single actor dialogue well. The character goes on to joke about a play called Salt and Pepper the musical, which is also a play by Benjamin that was recently playing in Northern New Mexico — minus the musical status, which Benjamin said is not in the works.
Salt and Pepper had near-sold out shows with its weekend run earlier this month, much to Benjamin’s delight. “I was surprised to see many young people showed up. I think that show has general appeal,” he said. “Everyone has had to deal with the aging of a loved one, or themselves.”
Benjamin worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory as a research physicist for 30 years and took an early retirement in 2004 to devote full-time to being a playwright.
Benjamin has had plays produced in Dixon, Los Alamos and Santa Fe. Two full-length plays, Time Enough and Parted Waters have been performed in various venues in northern New Mexico. Over a dozen of his short plays were produced for the Los Alamos Little Theater and Santa Fe Bench Warmers short-play festival.
Parted Waters was an Official New Mexico Statehood Centennial event last year and was on tour throughout the state.
The next performance of Parted Waters will be Oct. 3 in Santa Fe at Teatro Paraguas. The play is about people that had to hide the facts of their “crypto-Jewish” family backgrounds to avoid persecution during the Spanish Inquisition. The story is also based on historical facts, sprinkled with Benjamin’s own take and opinions. “I met a lot of people with these backgrounds during the course of my research,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin resides in White Rock. His works have been produced in several parts of the country. Salt and Pepper held script development readings this past winter in Santa Fe, Nashville, Tenn., and New York City.
Parted Waters has been produced in Philadelphia, Clearwater, Fla., Phoenix and El Paso, Texas and has been produced around New Mexico.