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CURVE:Stellar career brings family friend to L.A. stage

THE BELL

March 08, 2007|By JOSEPH N. BELL

I went to see an old family friend perform Sunday, and I'm still drained from the depth and passion of the emotions that were turned loose from the stage. Bill Irwin is the latest local-boy-makes-good to return close enough to his roots that the hometown folks can see him work. Bill graduated from Corona del Mar High School in 1968, won a Tony last year as best actor in a play ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"), and can be seen in that role for one more week at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.

In between high school in Newport Beach and the scalding lines of Edward Albee's "Virginia Wolff," Bill paid his professional dues in almost every facet of writing, performing and choreographing. Just a few of the highlights of that journey were miming on the streets of San Francisco, a run as a clown in the Pickle Family Circus, a MacArthur Fellowship grant to develop his own creative work as both writer and performer, and a resume that fills almost two Playbill columns of professional achievement before Albee cast him against type to co-star with Kathleen Turner in "Virginia Wolff."

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During those years, my family was close to the Irwin family, and my two daughters were sandwiched around Bill in high school. That family friendship has endured, allowing us to share some of Bill's triumphs — a few of them in person. Probably the most notable was his marriage on a grassy hill behind his parents' retirement home in Mendocino. The honored guests who also served as entertainers for the event were the members of the Pickle Circus who pulled out all the stops for us in a memorable celebration.

As we went back stage for a brief visit with Bill after seeing "Virginia Woolf," I thought of that day. Somehow, it symbolized the remarkable career that has followed.


Some years ago, I wrote an essay titled "The Ultimate Therapy." My thesis — which I still believe implicitly — was the importance of trivia in finding one's peace of mind. Only by legitimate caring about clearly unimportant matters is it possible to achieve the balance needed to deal rationally with important ones.

And at no time of year does that thesis play out more clearly than the Ides of March, when within a few weeks I will deeply involve myself in three examples of monumental unimportance in the great scheme of things: the Academy Awards, baseball spring training and the NCAA basketball tournament we call March Madness.

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