Entering Theater J, the first thing you notice is the whoosh and roar of the ocean. Normally, it’s a soothing sound, but not for Jeanette L. Buck. A few years ago, the Washington-area stage manager was brutally attacked in her Venice Beach, Calif., home. The unknown assailant — the crime has remained unsolved — beat Miss Buck and left her for dead.
For her, ocean sounds hold memories of violence and chaos.
Miss Buck’s personal memoir of the ordeal, of which she has no clear recollections, has been assembled in the harrowing “There Are No Strangers,” an hourlong look into her arduous recovery through the help of family, friends and an astonishing community of supporters. The play, directed by Delia Taylor and onstage at Theater J, is a theatrical thank-you note to the people who helped her heal, sent cards and money, or were simply just there for Miss Buck.
As much as you want to throttle the man who did this to her, what strongly emerges from “There Are No Strangers” is how wonderful humanity can be. Not only was Miss Buck surrounded by devoted family and friends, but plastic surgeons donated their services, and a lawyer agreed to handle her bankruptcy gratis because he didn’t want all of her experiences in Los Angeles to be “bad.”
After D.C. actress Sarah Marshall spread the word about Miss Buck’s astronomical medical bills — like most people in the arts, she did not have health insurance — money started pouring in from local actors, theaters and patrons of the arts.
Nobody deserves to have her head cracked open in order to realize mankind’s breathtaking benevolence, but that’s what happened to Miss Buck. “What does my soul have in mind?” she asks, trying to piece together the assault and the aftermath. She feels she survived for a reason that has yet to be revealed — except, perhaps, that now she knows, profoundly and humbly, that she is loved. “Whole or broken, we are still sacred,” she says, casting a benediction on an act of violence that left both inner and outer scars.
Holly Twyford plays Miss Buck, and an actress this accomplished could make the tax code seem riveting. She warmly conveys Miss Buck’s power while also displaying her furious sense of humor. Miss Twyford evokes chuckles recounting the character’s New-Agey encounters with astrologers, psychics and shamans, but the laughter crackles when she personifies Miss Buck’s outrage and frustration. Hell hath no fury like a ticked-off woman.
A bracing aspect of “There Are No Strangers” is that Miss Buck sees herself as a victim of a senseless and violent act, but she has not succumbed to a victim mentality. She searches for lessons, for guidance in what happened to her, rather than blaming her assailant. Emotional trauma lingers, but Miss Buck shows she is bigger than the attack.
You would hesitate to call this evening a play, or even a piece of theater. There is no dramatic arc, no character development, but as a testament to survival and generosity of spirit, “There Are No Strangers” succeeds on both an emotional and moral level.
WHAT: “There Are No Strangers,” by Jeanette L. Buck
WHERE: Theater J, Washington DC Jewish Community Center, 5129 16th St. NW, Washington
WHEN: Noon Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through April 17.
TICKETS: $10 to $30
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS