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Carnett: Summer 'surrogates' bolster each other

July 29, 2013|By Jim Carnett

Last week this space acknowledged the 20th anniversary of Orange Coast College's 1993 summer musical production, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific."

I was fortunate to land a small role in that show. Last week, I listed in this column several other cast members, including Sean Cox who portrayed the wily but endearing Seabee Luther Billis.

My daughter, Jenn, who took an OCC acting class or two with Sean in the early 1990s, recently reminisced with me about him.

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Though Sean and I hadn't met before "South Pacific," he ended up becoming my "surrogate son" for the summer. And that relationship meant a great deal to me.

The spring and summer of 1993 were a tough period for my family.

Because I've loved "South Pacific" since I was 10, I decided months in advance to audition for a small part in the OCC show. I was in my 22nd year as the college's community relations director.

My good friend Alex Golson directed the show, and encouraged me to audition.

In April of '93, about a month before tryouts, my son, Jimmy, was killed in an accident. Our family was devastated. I wasn't sure I was up to taking on an acting assignment. After some deliberation, however, I decided to give it a try. The distraction might do me good.

After the musical was cast, I met Sean for the first time. Coincidentally, his father had died within several days of my son, but I was unaware of that at the time.

As rehearsals began, I was impressed by Sean's portrayal of Billis. What a talent! Sean, who was 21 or 22, even reminded me a bit of my spirited son. I caught myself choking up a time or two watching him rehearse.

Someone — I don't remember who — informed me a few days into our rehearsal schedule that Sean had recently lost his father. He was grieving quietly. That person thought the two of us should talk.

I agreed, and we did so backstage one evening.

"Sean," I began hesitantly. "I understand your dad recently died."

Sean's normally cheerful demeanor darkened. I quickly followed up.

"I think I know what you may be going through," I added. "I recently lost my son. He wasn't much older than you."

I could scarcely contain my emotions.

That's all it took. Our bond was instantaneous.

"Sean," I said, "I'd be proud this summer to be a surrogate dad, if you're comfortable with that. I think we can help each other."

He agreed.

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