M*A*S*H meets past and present

MANCHESTER - Hawkeye. Trapper John. Radar. Cpl. Klinger. "Hot Lips" Houlihan.

The names are synonymous with M*A*S*H , a story of a group of Army doctors serving in the Korean War. They long ago entered the everyday lexicon of popular entertainment. You may have seen the movie, you probably saw at least a couple of episodes on TV - in real time or re-runs - you may have read the book. More on that in a minute.

But in case you missed all of that, another chance is coming. The Burr and Burton Media and Performing Arts Department will be presenting M*A*S*H - the play, written by playwright Tim Kelly - next week, from Wednesday, Nov. 7 through Saturday, Nov. 10, at the school's Riley Center for the Arts. "I wanted to find something different," said Jim Raposa, the show's director and head theater teacher. "I read it (M*A*S*H) and thought we hadn't done something like this before."

M*A*S*H mixes the seriousness of warfare with the at times dark, at other times zany brands of humor people in combat situations often use to cope with the stress of life in a war zone. The juxtaposition leads to some highly comedic moments, set off against others of a more poignant nature. The plot lines of the movie and the play - to say nothing of 11 years worth of television shows - diverge somewhat. Basically in the production Burr and Burton will present is a story about two doctors who arrive at a fictional "Mobile Army Surgical Hospital" near the front lines during the Korean War, which raged from 1950-53. The play goes on to recount some of their experiences, including one involving a young Korean who is injured in the war and gets sent to the United States.

The movie, which was released in 1970, and the television series, which ran from 1972-83, were often interpreted as anti-war dissent about the Vietnam War, which was still in full fury during the early 1970s. That however, is not the spin Raposa sees the play's version taking. "We're not making a comment about the Vietnam War - we're really trying to present what the play is," he said.

The play gave the theater department an opportunity to reach out to the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and donations will be collected after the performances to be earmarked for a Korean War memorial that is planned for next year, he said.

One of the ironies that surrounds M*A*S*H is that original story, which was developed by a doctor from Maine named H. Richard Hornberger, is that it was never intended as an anti-war piece of literature.

We know that from a local connection. M*A*S*H may have been dreamed up and conceptualized in Maine by a former military surgeon, but it probably would never have gone on to become the iconic piece of drama it did without the contributions of a writer who was living in Dorset at the time, W.C. "Bill" Heinz.

In 1961, Heinz, already by then widely regarded as one of the premier sports writers of his time, had expanded into writing novels. One of them, "The Surgeon," was published in 1963. Hornberger, who had studied under the surgeon who had been the basis for the novel read the story, and soon after got in touch with Heinz in search of some help, said his daughter Gayl Heinz, in a telephone interview last week.

Hornberger had been trying unsuccessfully to get his story about a group of army doctors in Korea published, and after giving it a read, Bill Heinz undertook to edit, re-write and revamp what Hornberger had put together, she said.

So began a series of trips back-and-forth between Dorset and Waterville, Maine, as the collaboration between the pair eventually yielded up the story of M*A*S*H, she said.

"Dad realized the problem with the book was that it was way too wacky and a little on the crude side with a lot of doctor humor," she said. "They wrote actual surgery into the book and made the reader realize this group knew what they were doing."

Its perceived antiwar hipness may have accounted for some of its popularity and success, but that, most definitely, was not either her father, or Dr. Hornberger's intent at all, she said.

The book, under the pseudonym of Richard Hooker (a name inspired by the trajectory of many of Hornberger's golf shots), was published in 1968. Gayl Heinz attended Burr and Burton Seminary, as it was then known, from 1965-69, but was sworn to secrecy about the project by her father and never told anyone about her father's work on the book, which was adapted into what became one of the most popular movies of 1970, until she and a group of friends went to see it at a drive-in movie theater, she said.

A few months ago, she learned through an alumni newsletter that the Burr and Burton theater department was planning to stage M*A*S*H, and got in touch with Raposa, she said.

The coincidence of the Burr and Burton connection with M*A*S*H and its storied history amazed Raposa, who saw the opportunity to make the school's fall play into an even larger teaching moment for his cast, he said.

"I don't like to do shows just for the sake of doing them," he said. "I like to combine them with what's going on and how to make it important to the students about what they are doing."

Now, the play had a real human - and local - face, he said. He invited Gayl Heinz to come and speak to the cast members before one of the shows and talk about her father's work on the tale, he said.

"My father would be amazed," Gayl Heinz said.

M*A*S*H will open Nov. 7 and run through Saturday Nov. 10. There will only be four evening performances, with the curtain time set for 6:30 p.m. There will be no matinee performances. Tickets are available online through bba.ticketjunior.com. Tickets are $7 for Burr and Burton students, faculty, staff and children under 18 and $12 for the general public. For more information, call 802-549-8224. The box office opens one hour prior to the show.

The cast of M*A*S*H includes: Chris Aiello, Ryan Burns, Harrison Downey, Nico Avalle-Embree, Anna Foster, Rachel Foster, Taylor Fuller, Zach Gordon, Zach Harding, Yoly Hua, Nichole Klemchuk, Megan Knight, Catharine Leiter, Henry Lin, Courtney Lynch, Anush Mirzoya, Weston Muench, Julie Mullen, Johanna Novak, Stella Oh, Rachel Peloquin, Elliot Peters, Bailey Ring, David Rose, Texas-Young-Shadis, Tayler Smith, Miyu Sakayama, Martha Turner, Kate Walla, Jeff Walters, Tess Webber, Emma Weinstein, Shaneal Wynters and Xini Yang.


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