Dan Bonnell’s Death-Defying Performance
The Fountain Theatre hosts a fund-raiser, featuring Eric Barr, to help cover Bonnell’s post-stroke medical costs
Thus far, director-playwright-composer Dan Bonnell has kept death at bay, in the wake of a crippling heart attack a couple of years ago, for which he was prescribed blood-thinners as part of his recovery. It was those blood-thinners that compounded the massive bleed from an almost lethal brain aneurysm that struck Dan on April 24 of this year.
On Saturday, December 16, it will have been almost eight months since that horrific stroke, which occurred in the middle of a meeting at Sacred Fools Theater to discuss his vision and the mechanics of directing my play, Red Ink.
Here’s an article detailing how his stroke interrupted the meeting among Dan, the Sacred Fools artistic board, the theater’s company advocate for the play, Vanessa Stewart, and me.
The primary reason that Saturday, December 16 matters is, because on that night, the Fountain Theatre is hosting a fundraiser to help cover Dan’s medical expenses, via a one-night stand of Eric Barr’s almost solo performance, A Piece of My Mind.
It’s an “almost” solo performance because Barr’s wife, Karen Genet, holds script for Barr and serves as his prompter. This isn’t because Barr can’t or refuses to memorize the lines he wrote. It’s because he, too, is a stroke victim, which has rendered memorization more challenging than in his pre-stroke life. A Piece of My Mind is an autobiographical survey of Barr’s own stroke and recovery.
Bonnell’s Long and Winding Road
When I last visited Dan about three weeks ago, at Marina Pointe Healthcare and Subacute skilled nursing facility in Culver City, he was in bed – as he’s been for almost all of the past eight months; He was able to breathe on his own power, but not swallow food. Marina Pointe was the fourth facility he’d lived in since the stroke.
His ordeal started with the ER ward of Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. He was transferred that same night to the USC/Keck hospital. After fighting off a series of infections, he was transferred to Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Elysian Park. After he further stabilized, he was transferred to Marina Pointe. At Barlow, the family reported that on occasion his eyes would open, but on my visits there, I never saw that. It was at Marina Pointe that I witnessed what they’d reported earlier.
The Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road” played from his wife’s iTunes compilation. Not only were his eyes open, but the movements of his face suggested that he understood what I was telling him. His lips puckered as though he was struggling to say something, but he didn’t, or couldn’t. (His family reports that he has uttered words on occasion.) His focus shifted from me to his wife, Lea Floden, who was sitting nearby.
Lea’s devotion and faith in his recovery, like that of his daughter Katie, have been unwavering, even in the face of some doctors who have been tight-fisted in their prescriptions of hope.
Who but Dan and God know what’s actually going on in that wounded brain?
His eyes were clear and comprehending. I held his hand and, at one point, he clutched it and tugged.
In the intervening weeks, he suffered another setback, another surgery, and he’s now recovering back at Barlow, and once again breathing by his own power after, once again, being on a ventilator.
Two days ago, Lea texted: “He’s back in an acute hospital. Back close to where he began. But this time he is awake and seeing things he didn’t get to see the first time around. Seeing the faces that went with the voices the first time around. We r hoping he’ll get to go outside and see how beautiful it is here this time. We kept promising it last time. But things kept going awry. . . He got to go into the courtyard at Marina twice. But this is nature. Hawks circling. Hawks circling.”
A Piece of My Mind
Eric Barr is the former chair of the Theatre Department at U.C. Riverside, where he’d hired Dan many times to direct university productions.
“I resigned four years ago, after my stroke. I didn’t have the stamina. My career is now spreading the word that there’s a possibility of life after a stroke.” (This ambition includes a 2015 film documentary, also called A Piece of My Mind.)
The show is about the phases of recovery, and “getting home,” he explains. “How it affects the family . . . What my wife went through I can’t imagine. It’s got to be worse for the family than it is for Dan.”
Barr says that Dan always raised the levels of the students’ work, “and he worked really well with the design faculty and staff; he was a great addition, the students loved working with him. He brought his professionalism and warmheartedness to the campus.”
Barr and his wife visited Dan at Marina a few weeks ago, and Barr had an empathetic response: “It was pretty shocking, just walking into the facility – I felt like I knew the patients in the hall, I thought these were the same people when I was in recovery.”
He describes how Dan’s hand and leg were shaking. “I remember lying in bed and not being able to control my limbs and being conscious. Sitting next to Dan, it was like sitting at my own bedside.”
Barr suffered a series of strokes following open heart surgery in 2012 – a surgery that triggered an infection. However, Barr’s strokes were ischemic –triggered by blood clots — whereas Dan’s was the result of a burst blood vessel in the brain.
Barr lost the ability to speak, his left side was completely paralyzed for a while.
“None of them are easy to recover from,” Barr says.
A Piece of My Mind will be performed on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $50. Proceeds to benefit Dan Bonnell and family. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.