Nonna-Generians – Play talks about older victims of broken homes

Ojai Youth Entertainers Studio photo
Ojai Youth Entertainers Studio photo

It’s an issue that rarely gets discussed when visitation rights are brought up between parents, but there’s a lot of heartbreak regardless. What happens to the grandparents when a grandchild is moved across the country? Do the grandparents have any rights themselves?

Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, now in his early 80s, has been writing on the subject for many years now, with books such as “Grandparents/Grandchildren: The Vital Connection” and “Between Parents and Grandparents.” He’s also been carrying around a play about these same issues, called “Nonna,” which made its way into the hands of Richard Kuhlman, director at Ojai Youth Entertainers Studio. Dr. Kornhaber finally gets his wish tonight as “Nonna” premieres for a three-week run.

“Nonna” comes out of hundreds of stories that Dr. Kornhaber has dealt with over the years, including much of the dialogue (with a whole lot of fictionalizing going on.) “It’s a very touching play, and very true to life.”

“Nonna” features three strong senior citizen roles and three strong female roles (some are both), which is a rarity. The cast includes Susan Franzblau, a new Ojai resident, as Nonna.

In “Nonna,” the grandchild in question is a 10-year-old played by Lucy Willhite. She is being raised by a single father (Mark Metzger) who decides he needs a change best suited for the child. But the grandparents have moved to Arizona from Boston for health reasons, and their assumptions about yearly visits prove wrong. They wind up being cut off.

Also starring in the play: Carol Garramone as a “crazy aunt,” Julia Wilson (as an older version of Lucy’s character), Buddy Wilds (who directs at the Arts Center when he isn’t acting) and John Valenzuela.

Dr. Kornhaber comes to every rehearsal, watches and gives notes.

“They’re never dictatorial,” says Mr. Kuhlman. “The notes are how he’s feeling in his gut. … We agreed that we’d be totally honest with each other during the whole process. We’re a pretty good team and a pretty good match up.”

Mr. Kuhlman’s contacts down in Hollywood are coming up for the premiere; he’s hoping that the play will continue to be produced down south, and it could be suited for the screen, he says. It has the power to move.

“It’s ‘bring-your-handkerchiefs’ time.”

When: 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. through April 26.
Where: Ojai Youth Entertainers Studio, 316 E. Matilija St., Ojai
Cost: $15/$20
Information: 646-4300

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