Critical Praise for Missing Man
Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
August 15, 2007
Quick! Someone call Ira Glass of Chicago Public Radio’s This America Life. The perfect subject for that radio program ( or possibly the Showtime cable TV version ) is now playing at Live Bait Theater. It’s Mary Scruggs’ Missing Man.
Better yet, go yourself immediately to hear this emotional and very funny show in person. It’s part of Live Bait’s 12th Annual Fillet of Solo Festival, so don’t expect much more than just Scruggs on stage by herself. Yet the imagery and tales she spins paint a rich picture of Americans nursing the wounds of war and personal loss.
Missing Man is a classic fish-out-of-water scenario. Scruggs, a suburban mom who works at Second City as head of its comedy writing program, tells how she ended up on a cross-country motorcycle trip with approximately 300 Vietnam veterans in 2001 before Memorial Day. Their destination: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial ( “The Wall” ) in Washington, D.C.
Scruggs’ title, Missing Man, is derived from the formation that leads the motorcycle pack of “Run For the Wall.” Just like fighter pilots who leave an empty space in formation to honor fallen comrades, the bikers leave a special empty space to honor fallen soldiers or those missing in action.
Though Scruggs didn’t lose anyone personally in the Vietnam War, she’s able to use the Missing Man title to apply much more personally to her relationships with men in her life. It ranges from her own alcoholic Korean War veteran father to the writing colleague who roped her into documenting of this memorial run filled with testosterone, leather and exhaust fumes.
Hearing Scruggs explain her take on biker culture and the very distinct bikers she rides with ( who go by road names like Iron Mike, Deacon and Dragon Rider ) is hilarious. Scruggs can also spur multiple tears as she talks about seeing hulking men break down crying as they visit memorials across the country. ( Scruggs account of visiting the late Dr. Victor Westphall and his own Vietnam Memorial in Angel Fire, N.M., is particularly devastating. )
If there is any fault with Scruggs’ Missing Man and Edward Thomas-Herrera’s direction, it could be the lack of some really good jokes or stories that gives permission for the audience to laugh. The preview audience I attended with was a little hesitant to let loose at Scruggs’ very funny material mixed amid the touching stories.
Excerpted from -
Nina Metz, New City Chicago
August 14, 2007
Tip of the Week - Missing Man
In the final installment of the 12th Annual Fillet of Solo Festival at Live Bait Theater, Mary Scruggs details her adventures and emotional upheavals on the back of a Harley during "Run for the Wall," the annual cross-country motorcycle pilgrimage to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. "Of course I’m on this trip because of a man." She is referring to Dan—friend, colleague and Vietnam vet—and "the man who got me on a motorcycle." Scruggs, with her Campbell-Soup-kid looks, decides this is not what "a married lady with a child should be doing," but her husband’s refrain is unchanging: "Oh you should go. It’ll be fun."
… The best portions focus on the visceral details of the ride itself—the "coursing, surging asphalt," the colorful road names each rider adopts. The men on this trip are burly, no-bullshit types, and they take Scruggs under their collective wing. They call her "darlin’," and instruct her to climb aboard. She is seduced by the proximity this affords—the heat between two bodies; muscles shifting; the smell of leather and soap. The show is defined by an undercurrent of sorrow and introspection—the ride is dedicated to POW’s and MIA’s, and the front of the caravan rides in a "missing man" formation—yet a persistent, low-key humor buoys the monologue. Scruggs is a likable performer and more than once flashes a priceless, barely perceptible, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me facial expression.
Matthew Fagerholm, Columbia Chronicle
February 25, 2008
Playwright undergoes search for a ‘Missing Man’
Second City’s Mary Scruggs performs her first solo show
Writer/actress Mary Scruggs turned her experience of riding cross-country on motorcycle with three hundred Vietnam veterans into the solo show ‘Missing Man.’
Three hundred motorcyclists blazed across America in the spring of 2001. But they weren’t the average group of easy riders. Each of them had served in Vietnam, and they were making their annual cross-country trek to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Yet on this particular trip was an unlikely passenger: 35-year-old Chicago playwright Mary Scruggs. She left her husband and 4-year-old son behind to travel with these veterans for an unforgettable ride. Nearly seven years later, Scruggs has turned her experience into the solo show, “Missing Man,” currently running at Chicago’s Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark St.
Scruggs had previously planned to turn her story into a novel, until Live Bait’s artistic director Sharon Evans convinced her to take it to the theater.
“It frankly took me a while to work up the guts to do it,” Scruggs said.
The Chicago playwright was no stranger to the theater world. Her father was an amateur actor and her mother was a public school teacher, which led Scruggs to a career blending education with theater. She has written a series of plays entitled “The Fairy Trials,” which taught Cook County residents about their court system. Scruggs currently heads up the writing program for The Second City’s Chicago training center.
Yet no matter how much previous theater experience she had, Scruggs never performed anything resembling a solo show. She found much guidance from Evans in shaping her screenplay.
“She would just ask me questions to help me get in touch with what an audience would want to know,” Scruggs said. “Because it was such an overwhelming experience, it led me to sort out what the through line would be for an audience.”
The clarity of that through line (aka narrative connection with the audience) was further sharpened by her collaboration with director Edward Thomas-Herrera, Columbia’s creative production coordinator for creating and printing services. His past experience on several other solo shows allowed him to efficiently sort through Scruggs’ densely layered story.
“There’s so many characters that she talks about,” Thomas said. “So you have to make sure that when she talks about a particular character, she’s always talking about him in the same part of the stage to clarify where and who he is. My job was making sure everything she talks about is specific onstage so the audience can see it with her.”
Much of the play’s comedy stems from Scruggs’ interactions with the colorful group of motorcyclists she traveled with. She said her experience at The Second City has helped sharpen her comic timing.
“It’s like racing around with a lot of marathon runners,” Scruggs said. “You got to keep your wind up or you’re going to be left behind.”
Her first mentor in comedy, however, was her father, who often gave advice to Scruggs during her school plays.
“His whole thing was: Don’t step on a laugh, you gotta leave room for the audience to laugh, otherwise they won’t,” Scruggs said. “When I was 16 he’d be like, ‘Great performance, but in the middle of act two there was that line you stepped on.’ And I was just like, ‘Thanks, Dad.’”
It was Scruggs’ relationship with her father that played a crucial role in her emotional connection with the experiences of the veterans. Her father, who passed away while waiting for an organ transplant that never came, was a Vietnam vet. Scruggs thus made a conscious effort to comment on America’s treatment of war veterans, if not the war itself, through her play.
“Dealing with loss is hard, and the temptation to just ignore it is enormous,” Scruggs said. “We bury a lot. It’s the whole thing with, ‘Let’s not take pictures of the flag-draped coffins; let’s just pretend that it’s not there. That’s going to bring everyone down.’ And it’s like, well, maybe we need to be brought down.”
Scruggs noted the entire reason the Vietnam veterans went on the annual trip was just to allow each other to process the loss that their own nation refused to acknowledge.
Before the trip, Scruggs had always thought of Vietnam veterans as her elders. It all changed when she viewed a photo album filled with the faces of teenage veterans in the midst of their service.
“It struck me how young they were,” Scruggs said. “They honestly didn’t look much older than my 4-year-old.”
Back home, her husband Richard had confidence in his wife’s fairly risky endeavor, while caring for their son. Both Richard and Mary came from artistic backgrounds, and each were devoted to supporting each other in their artistic pursuits.
All the support paid off this year when “Missing Man” premiered on Jan. 24 to enthusiastic reviews and audiences. Scruggs credits The Second City for guiding her in the tradition of its famous writer/performers who put story and character above all else.
She also encourages Columbia’s acting majors searching for their own artistic voice to try out The Second City’s semester-long Comedy Studies program. Scruggs admits that her current students from Columbia have instilled hope within her about the current generation’s refusal to ignore the wounds of war.
“I was talking to the Columbia students the other day, and it struck me how engaged and committed everybody in the class was, on a level that was new to me,” Scruggs said. “I feel like there’s a shift in consciousness politically with the election coming up and the young people really getting involved in the process.”
2008 New York International Fringe Festival Review
reviewed by Peter Schuyler
Aug 20, 2008
[Taken from the press materials]: In May 2001, Chicago writer/actress/educator/mom Mary Scruggs decided to join over 300 motorcycle enthusiasts on the "Run for the Wall"—an annual cross-country pilgrimage to commemorate the dead and missing soldiers of the Vietnam War.
I don't normally go in for one-person shows. I find them by turns narcissistic, banal, and altogether not my theatrical cup of tea. Autobiographical one-person shows I find even more grating. I have my own life to live, why would I want to spend an hour listening to yours? How does the performer expect an audience member to believe that their story is new and fresh every night? Where does the line between anecdote end and self-flagellation begin? So I go into the theatre with an attitude that screams: "Entertain me. I DARE you."
Mary Scruggs did better than that, she shared with me. I felt less like I was watching a performance and more like I was visiting a friend after she had just returned from a long vacation. She has an ebullient, charming air, and is genuinely pretty damn funny. Her tale, however, is not. Scruggs has a lot to tell us, and the majority of it is not light and airy. The people she met on the trip are largely damaged, veterans of a war that America would rather forget. The loss these men feel is retold palpably by Scruggs, but the focus is most definitely on her. She went on the ride in a very turbulent time in her life and some of the most heartbreaking moments have little or nothing to do with being on the road.
Edward Thomas-Herrera's direction is very hands-off, or it gives the impression of being so. He is wise enough to recognize Scruggs's natural storytelling talent and spares us the bells, whistles and (most mercifully) the impersonations. Boaz Reisman's sound design doesn't overpower the action, but it can be jarring, especially after moments when the atmosphere has become very still.
Being the son of a Vietnam vet I may be an easy target for this show, but I don't think so. This is an honest, human account of a woman's life and frankly there is something here for everyone. In light of the war our country is currently embroiled in, it's very important that we remember that the soldiers who come home need as much support as those still in the field. Do yourself a favor. Go see Mary.
Directed by Edward Thomas-Herrera
Presented by Mary Scruggs