‘Joint Chiefs’ takes the stage Lake Tahoe Community College
Chicago-based playwright Peter McDonough notched a win at Valhalla Tahoe’s 2016 WordWave One-Act Play Competition, but his South Shore success didn’t stop there: Beginning Thursday, Nov. 9, his production “Joint Chiefs” takes the stage for the first time ever at Lake Tahoe Community College’s Duke Theatre.
The play, which follows four veterans — one from each branch of service — who meet daily at a diner called The Joint, was the one-act show that awarded McDonough the win at last year’s second annual WordWave. Due to the success of “Joint Chiefs,” Valhalla invited the playwright to expand his script into a full-length production.
Rae Matthews, Valhalla board member and director of “Joint Chiefs,” had eyed the possibility of bringing the production to a South Shore stage in honor of Veterans Day since she first read the script.
“Since last year I’ve wanted to put up a full-length play, and wanted to put it up on Veterans Day. I’ve been carrying the torch for this project for several months now,” she said.
“Joint Chiefs” seemed like the natural choice for a Veterans Day production, as the play’s focus is on the brotherhood of men who formerly served the various branches of the United States military.
According to Valhalla Tahoe’s website, “Joint Chiefs” is a “heart-felt story” that follows the four veterans as they “tell stories, share jokes and give each other grief, until one day Mike [a veteran] seems to be acting strangely.”
“There are very few plays out there that touch on this subject of vets and what it’s like to be one — it’s a world in theater that should expand. When this play came along, it stood out for that reason as well: simply for the subject matter that it tackles.
“Putting it up on Veterans Day helps draw attention to that fact and the uniqueness of the play and its themes. It celebrates these guys and their bond in a very human and heartfelt way. It’s simple and accessible,” explained Matthews.
McDonough himself is not a veteran, but is related to men who have served — he sought a story about people who were unable to express feelings, and ultimately found inspiration for his play in a lyric from John Mellencamp’s 1987 song “Check It Out.”
“The song describes all these different motions we go through in life, and one of the lines is ‘You can’t tell your best buddy that you love him.’ That stuck with me. I think about that in my own life, and with guys who are more blue-collar, working-class guys who can’t always express feelings, respect or appreciation for one another.
“I happened to focus on these guys being veterans who met every day for coffee and started their day that way. They’re working-class men who shared milestones, but something traumatic happens during the course of the couple-day period that this takes place,” McDonough said.
For those who saw the one-act staged reading of “Joint Chiefs” at the 2016 WordWave, McDonough says the newer, full-length version is not much different.
“This gave me the opportunity to expand it and I got a chance to dig into the characters, make them more dimensional and build on relationships a little bit more. I told the same story, but I was able to do it with more richness,” said the playwright, adding that most differences are subtle and include the addition of character nuances.
While Valhalla Tahoe presents “Joint Chiefs” and supplies the cast, Lake Tahoe Community College houses the production. The partnership comes as a result of the Theatre Task Force, which was created to seek opportunities for expanding use of the college’s Duke Theatre.
Due to decreasing enrollment in the LTCC Theatre Department, the college has begun exploring sustainable ways to support performing arts and the theatre program, according to Michelle Risdon, vice president of academic affairs.
“One recommendation out of the task force was to examine a public-private partnership moving forward that we could leverage to bring vibrancy to the theater and not have to completely eliminate our theatre program for credit, but be able to sustain that while bringing in different events and activities to the theatre space,” she noted. “There were Valhalla partners on the task force, so we started talking with Valhalla as an initial partner.”
“With the WordWave One-Act Play Competition and [McDonough] making [“Joint Chiefs”] into a full-length production at the same time we’re investigating the possibility of such a partnership, it’s a great opportunity to test out some issues we’d have to address,” Risdon added.
These issues involve what future partnerships between LTCC and other organizations would look like. According to both Matthews and Risdon, the co-op between Valhalla and the college is the first step in exploring the future of LTCC’s Theatre Department.
“This particular show is a bit of an experiment: What the logistics are, who needs to do what with the partnership — these are all questions in the air,” Matthews said.
Risdon stated that this production will impact the possibility of future collaborations.
“We’re seeing this as the initial step to tease out the details of what partnerships involve… I think this will give an idea of what directions we can go, and want to go, to make this work,” she said.
Learn more about “Joint Chiefs” online at http://www.valhallatahoe.com. General admission is $20, and a discount is available for veterans and active military. The production is open to all ages, but there is a warning for coarse language.
“Joint Chiefs” runs Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 9-12, and returns for a second weekend with shows Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 16-19. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m.
LTCC’s Duke Theatre is located on campus at 1 College Drive.