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Proceeds from play to go toward scholarships for wounded and slain soldiers' children

Jihadists believe, if they martyr themselves to kill an enemy, their souls go directly to heavenor Paradise. In November, Paradise is coming to Austin Peay State University. Paradise is the second play in the famed War Trilogy written by the late, great New York City playwright and former APSU artist-in-residence Glyn OMalley.
Jihadists believe, if they martyr themselves to kill an enemy, their souls go directly to heavenor Paradise. In November, “Paradise” is coming to Austin Peay State University. “Paradise” is the second play in the famed War Trilogy written by the late, great New York City playwright and former APSU artist-in-residence Glyn O'Malley.

Directed by Dr. Sara Gotcher, professor of theater and O'Malley's friend, “Paradise” comes to Trahern Theatre one year to the day O'Malley died from a heart attack. A memorial to O'Malley, the performance is at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 14-17, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Nov. 18. All proceeds will go to the Sgt. Ariel Rico Memorial Scholarship, established by O'Malley at APSU.

Inspired by a true incident that became the cover story of Newsweek (April 15, 2002), “Paradise” follows the story of two girls, one Palestinian and one Israeliwho, in another time and place, could have been friendsas they deal with their everyday life of homework, teenage crushes and dreams, while war whirls around them.

Originally, the piece was commissioned by The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for its 2002-03 educational outreach program, which tours local schools. But in January 2003, with the wounds of 9/11 still fresh and hurtful, the tour was canceled when a threat to stop the production created concern throughout the community.

Eventually, “Paradise” was staged in New York City by Gary Allen Productions. It opened in March 2005 to a soldout limited engagement at The Kirk Theatre on Theatre Row. Determined it would be the story he intended, O'Malley directed the production. Subsequently, “Paradise” has played to standingroom audiences across the U.S.

Besides the upcoming performances at APSU to memorialize O'Malley and raise money for the scholarship fund he established, Gotcher says “Paradise” will be Austin Peay's entry in the 2007-08 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF).

Whether preparing for a production of “Paradise” or remembering poignant scenes from “A Heartbeat to Baghdad,” a nagging question hangs in the air: Since scenes of war, mayhem and martyrdom repulse most people, why did they intrigue O'Malley?

When he was playwright-in-residence at APSU, O'Malley often pointed to 9/11 as the impetus for his War Trilogy. After 9/11, O'Malley spent the last five years of his life crawling around in the psyches of people who commit atrocities in the name of their god. And he was driven to probe the hearts and minds of their victims whom O'Malley discovered were to be found, not just on the battlefield but also at homethe loved ones left behind in times of war.

Already well-versed in world politics and religious fanaticism through months of intensive studies and personal experiences in the political hotbeds of Europe and the Middle East, O'Malley spent weeks in sleepless introspection before he put pen to paper.

His first play of the War Trilogy, “Concertina's Rainbow,” which debuted in 2001 in New York City, takes place during the Serbian bombing of Sarajevo. O'Malley personalized the larger horror of war through the story of an Albanian Gypsy girl and two American women.

The third in O'Malley's War Trilogy, “A Heartbeat to Baghdad,” written while he was at APSU, was based on scores of interviews with soldiers based at Fort Campbell, Ky., and their loved ones whom they left behind when they deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Initially dubbed The 101st Project, “A Heartbeat to Baghdad” had its world premiere at APSU in Fall 2002. O'Malley returned for the production, accompanied by Jim Simpson, husband of Sigourney Weaver and owner of The Flea Theatre, NYC, where the play later enjoyed a successful run.

Ultimately, O'Malley established the Sgt. Ariel Rico Memorial Scholarship, designating it for children of dead or wounded soldiers of the 101st and pledging to give a percentage of future revenues from the play to the scholarship fund.

In an open letter on the Web to hundreds of friends and colleagues around the world, O'Malley asked for financial support for the Sgt. Ariel Rico Memorial Scholarship. Despite his plea and the need that was great, the scholarship fund never reached his goal. “I cannot think of a better way to pay tribute to Glyn's memory than to stage another play from his ‘War Trilogy,'” Gotcher said.

“As an artist, a playwright, a faculty member at several New York colleges and universities and as a man who cared deeply about the victims of war, especially the children, Glyn would be pleased to know we still are working to take care of these tiny victims by ensuring their education and a better future. “As we take the stage to present ‘Paradise,' I know Glyn will be with us in spirit.”

Tickets for “Paradise” are $4 for students and $6, general admission. They go on sale from 3-5 p.m., Nov. 7 (and one hour prior to each performance) at the Theatre Ticket Office in Trahern Building. To reserve your tickets, please call (931) 221-7379. For more information about the APSU production of “Paradise,” contact Gotcher by telephone at (931) 221-6259 or e-mail gotchers@apsu.edu. -- Dennie B. Burke