HOMETOWN MEDIUM: Santa Barbara playwright Rod Lathim credits a spiritual awakening with helping fuel his new production, titled Unfinished Business. The play stars (from left) Solomon N’Dungu, Katie Thatcher, Ann Dusenberry, Brian Harwell, and Marion Freitag.

Playwright, producer, and longtime advocate for the performing arts Rod Lathim stands poised to embark on a production of the second version of his original play Unfinished Business. Like many of the other shows going up around town this season, Unfinished Business features a stellar cast of experienced actors drawn from our community’s deep talent pool. Unlike those other shows, though, Lathim’s creation has its roots not in this world but in the next. As a longtime believer in spiritualism, Lathim combines the composition of his plays with an ongoing process of mediumship that he believes allows him to communicate with people after they have died. When his mother died several years ago, Lathim experienced a profound personal spiritual awakening, and he has been pursuing this fusion of the theatrical and the supernatural ever since.

There are precedents for Lathim’s mixture of literary ambition with supernatural claims. James Merrill wrote his American epic, The Changing Light at Sandover, with the help of the Ouija board, and William Butler Yeats composed A Vision, his elaborate and mystical theory of history and personality, under the influence of his wife’s séances. For Lathim, the substantially longer, more intricate version of Unfinished Business that will play in a circumscribed, 160-seat setup with the audience seated onstage at the Lobero Theatre this week represents a similar attempt to fuse art with mysticism and magic. By combining his claim to contact and communicate directly with the dead with his experience as an actor, director, and producer and his record as an advocate for the disabled, Lathim intends to put Unfinished Business, his magnum opus, into this special, unclassifiable category alongside other literally death-denying works such as Edgar Allan Poe’s Eureka.

Playwrights often struggle to understand other people and to portray their motives and passions in stage actions and dialogue that is plausible and meaningful, even when it is unrealistic and unexpected. Lathim, however, has lucked out, because he has a personal resource for material that’s not available to the ordinary writer. He can turn inspiration on like a faucet, thanks to his time spent at a school that’s more like Hogwarts than Harvard. Last summer Lathim attended the Arthur Findlay College, a school of Spiritualism and psychic sciences in Essex, England. At this college, students are charged hundreds of pounds a week for classes with titles like Trance Healing 2, Go Beyond, and So You Want to Be a Medium?

“It was really about attunements,” Lathim said of the experience. “I learned how to receive information without filtering.” This information from the hereafter has now been distilled into six new characters and a much longer, two-act structure that describes three levels of reality, one physical, and the other two supernatural. By the end of the second act, according to Lathim, “everything is happening at once.”

Unfinished Business will be at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) Thursday-Sunday, January 22-25. For tickets and show times, call (805) 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.


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