BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
Hunker Down was written as a “service to the community” during the pandemic, explained local playwright Robert Benjamin during his presentation at Tuesday’s Zoom meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos. Billed as “a heartwarming romantic comedy about older, single adults grappling with isolation during COVID-19 times,” the play stars Duchess Dale, also the director, and Don Converse as neighbors whose spouses have died.
The story of the play’s characters and their loneliness during the pandemic, sprinkled with the good-natured humor that defines Benjamin’s work, began as a stage play in March 2020. By May, Benjamin realized he needed to transition to “purebred Zoom.” Through this adaptation, Hunker Down became one of the first, and one of the few, plays written in which the action itself takes place on Zoom. Benjamin compared it to “eavesdropping” on the couple’s conversations as set in three acts.
The “gift of being heard” is a strong theme throughout the play, especially as the two characters are pushed beyond their comfort zones, creating a “rollercoaster of intimacy” and an exploration of regrets.
The play was very well-received during its recent production by Teatro Paraguas in Santa Fe. Each of the three performances were live, as Benjamin firmly believes we “must keep theater live” as a way to support the performing arts. In keeping with that philosophy, he is not charging a royalty. Benjamin estimates that 300-400 people attended the January 22-24 productions; many from all around the country joined Benjamin and the actors for a lively discussion after the one-hour play.
Benjamin addressed issues that surround the use of Zoom, not just as a broadcasting format, but as the setting for the play itself. Full-body motions are greatly restricted and not easily adapted to the Zoom screen; nuanced facial expressions draw more attention and take on much greater significance because reliance on props, sets, and costumes is reduced.
Benjamin hopes to see Hunker Down reach even wider audiences, as the play’s themes are universal. He also expects to write more plays for Zoom and stage. As he remarked, playwriting is “a calling.”
Benjamin was captivated by the theater when he was a junior in high school, crediting his English teacher, who often portrayed characters in full costume in the classroom, notably Shakespeare’s King Richard lll.
Benjamin describes himself as “a loyal Lab guy,” now a late-blooming playwright, who retired after a 30-year career as a research physicist. Benjamin’s plays are mostly about “aging with grace, courage and humor.” His full-length plays produced in New Mexico and elsewhere include Parted Waters, Salt and Pepper, Not Quite Right, Time Enough, Still in the Game and Simple Gifts. He has also had twenty shorts plays, a short film, and an operetta produced.
Additionally, Benjamin is the senior author of a children’s science book, Spills and Ripples. He is also a Laboratory Fellow, and, in 2019, he was honored as a Los Alamos Living Treasure.
As his English teacher might have quoted in character as King Richard lll, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” Benjamin is working tirelessly to make sure our winter is also filled with humor, good will, and hope.
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos, through its Club Foundation, is a 501(c)3 non-profit and one of over 34,000 clubs worldwide. Rotary, which now has 1.5 million members, was founded in 1905; the local Club was chartered in 1966. Rotary areas of focus include promoting peace; fighting disease, particularly polio; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; supporting education; saving mothers and children; growing economies; and protecting the environment.
To learn more about the Rotary Club of Los Alamos and its charitable service, please contact: Laura Gonzales, president, 699-5880 or Skip King, membership chair, 662-8832.