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Vol. LXII, No. 46
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
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Screening of Evered’s “Adopt A Sailor” Delights Audience at Robeson Center

Dilshanie Perera

The Solley Theater at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts was packed for the preview screening of Princeton playwright-turned-director Charles Evered’s Adopt A Sailor on Monday. “It means a lot for me to show this movie here because it is my hometown,” Mr. Evered said while introducing the work.

The 84-minute film centers on three characters: a sailor, played by Ethan Peck, who stumbles into the lives of married couple, Patricia and Richard (Bebe Neuwirth and Peter Coyote), through the Navy’s “Adopt A Sailor” program. Most of the film takes place inside the couple’s New York apartment, and relationships between the characters are developed largely through conversation.

Mr. Peck’s character is a sweet-faced boy from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, while Patricia and Richard are Manhattanites who are enduring a slowly crumbling marriage. The sailor’s polite wisdom and formality is neatly juxtaposed with the self-absorbed Richard and the embittered Patricia, who become emotionally aligned only when the sailor tells them about how he once accidentally fell out of an airplane and survived. They are brought together again at the end of the film, after the sailor’s departure.

The sailor character played by Mr. Peck, who is the grandson of Gregory Peck, seems awestruck by the big city, patiently amused by Patricia and Richard attempts at caring for him (“I’m the worst ‘Adopt-a-Mother’ ever,” wails Patricia), and quietly distressed by their relationship (“This is what it looks like when people don’t love each other anymore,” yell both Richard and Patricia during different moments in the film).

Adopt A Sailor’s inception came in the form of a short play that Mr. Evered was asked to write in 2002 in response to the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. From there, he turned it into a longer play, and then most recently the screenplay for the film, which he also directed.

Mr. Evered explained that though overt mentions of September 11 don’t appear in the movie, the theme is still “about us living during wartime” and implicit questions include, “What is sacrifice? And how are we really connected?” When Patricia and Richard grow upset that the sailor is “shipping out” to go to war the following day, it is he who comforts them, telling them not to worry.

Regarding the process of writing, Mr. Evered remarked that he has to “make every character credible and give each character their due.”

“What I find fascinating about the characters is that they tend to teach me things. I write to know, rather than to tell,” said Mr. Evered, adding, “I want to explore a world I’m not familiar with.”

“I think it’s the job of every writer to live a varied and fascinating life, and to meet as many people as they can,” Mr. Evered declared. As a professor at the University of California at Riverside, he gives his students similar advice, urging them to “read plays from all different eras, live an interesting life and save up those experiences, and try to remain open-minded.”

The project itself is one that Mr. Evered acknowledged he is “very close to,” as he was a Navy Reservist for eight years, and has also lived in New York City.

Describing being a director as an “exciting new venture,” Mr. Evered observed that “the great advantage of directing what you write is that you have more control, but the disadvantage is that you have so much control.”

Shot over 14 days, Adopt A Sailor shows real-life footage aboard the amphibious warship, USS Wasp, as well as that of New York City’s port, Times Square, and Upper West Side. Being a former Reservist, Mr. Evered was allowed the “total cooperation of the U.S. Navy for free.”

“On the deck of the USS Wasp, which is where they land their helicopters, there were 2,000 to 3,000 people on the ship and everyone was looking at me,” Mr. Evered recounted, saying he realized “they were waiting for me to say ‘Action.’” During the question-and-answer session after the screening, Former Princeton resident Ms. Neuwirth, who was in attendance that evening, revealed that Mr. Evered’s first day of filming was on board the warship.

“For a small film, it was quite a big adventure,” Mr. Evered said.

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