Everyone who has ever attended at the bedside of a dying parent knows what it is like to feel helpless. But when that parent is unable to communicate his or her last wishes, and when there are siblings involved, things can quickly become even more complex and difficult. This is the “unfinished business” that inspired Rod Lathim’s new play. His Unfinished Business — at the Lobero Thursday-Sunday, May 9-12 — won’t leave you feeling helpless, though, as it was written to dramatize Lathim’s own experience of receiving the guidance he needed at this difficult time and having that relief come from a very unexpected place.
When Lathim’s mother, Kathleen, was dying at her home in Santa Barbara, and all her children were gathered at her bedside, some highly unusual things began to happen for her son. “On my mother’s last day alive, people began showing up in her room, and they were not made of flesh and blood,” said Lathim. “These spirits had crossed over from the other side, and my unconscious dying mother and I both spoke with them.”
Lathim is no newcomer to either the theater or the spirit world. He was, among other things, the community leader who steered the Marjorie Luke Theatre project to its glorious fruition. At the same time that he’s been active in the theater and in philanthropy, Lathim has also had a penchant for detecting and communing with the city’s ghosts. At age 15, while working at the Big Yellow House in Summerland, he was accosted by spirit energy in the wine cellar, and let’s just say that things have hardly quieted down since then.
Unfinished Business will star Brian Harwell as David, the Rod Lathim character, and it will also include such outstanding Santa Barbara actors as Katie Thatcher, Ann Dusenberry, Marion Freitag, Solomon Ndungu, and Julie Anne Ruggieri. Each show will be followed by a discussion, something that Lathim says was very much in demand when the show premiered last year as part of a night of three one-acts. “People wouldn’t leave,” he told me, “because they all wanted to talk about the subject and about the play. It may seem like your loss is unique, but when you come together with others who have gone through it, the experience turns into a common denominator.”
That’s certainly true for Susan Plummer, executive director of the Alliance for Living and Dying Well. The Alliance, which exists in order to give residents of Santa Barbara the chance to “speak openly about the reality of death, and accept it and embrace it as inextricably connected to life; to have conversations about dying and put wishes about end-of-life care into words on paper in the form of directions; and to understand that we are not alone, and that the shared experience of connecting and belonging when we face death and dying together is crucial,” will receive a portion of the proceeds from Unfinished Business to support its activities. After attending the premiere last spring, Plummer quickly became one of Lathim’s biggest fans. She describes Unfinished Business as “opening doors and hearts,” and she sees theater as an excellent opportunity to work with people on creating a cultural shift around how we talk about end-of-life issues. Volunteers from the Alliance will distribute health-care directive packets to those who are interested, and they will stick around to moderate the discussions following each of the shows.
Unfinished Business opens at the Lobero Theatre on Thursday, May 9, and runs through Sunday, May 12, with both matinee and evening performances every day of the run. Call (805) 963-0761 or visit lobero.com for tickets and info.