Recently I was privileged to see and review an original play at Hollywood’s Hudson Theatre. The name of the play drew my attention; it is “Zulu Time.” A lifelong pilot and former United States Marine I instantly understood Zulu time to mean Greenwich Mean Time, a time zone routinely used in aviation. But it has other meanings as well. In the play “Zulu Time” playwright Charles Faerber presents a powerful portrait of Naval Aviation and what it is like to be aboard an American aircraft carrier as the ship and its crew prepare for and deal with the adversity of sea duty and ultimately combat missions. For all of the imperfections of the human experience, and there are many, what emerges is compelling and for most revealing. But as the show came to an end I was given the opportunity to meet briefly with “Zulu Time’s” creator Charles Faerber. The experience was instantly magic and I wanted to know more. So I requested and received an opportunity interview Charles Faerber and here now is what I discovered.
In the mid 1960’s as America was drawn ever deeper into its gruesome war in Vietnam a young Charles Faerber was attending Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. While working on his Bachelor’s degree he took some time to write what was to become his very first play. It was produced and earned him substantial kudos and the seed had been sown. But then he graduate and moved on in pursuit of a Master’s degree at the University of Oregon.
One day as Charles Faerber was strolling about the campus of the University of Oregon he saw two Navy officers wearing wings of gold and chatting with college students about the many benefits of Naval Aviation. Intrigued Charles Faerber stopped by and a conversation ensued. Within ten minutes he had signed up and was quickly on his way to Pensacola, Florida for a combination of basic officer training and basic flight training. Essentially he was introduced to the unique characteristics of United States Marine Corps Drill Instructors while also gaining deep familiarity with the forces of lift, drag, thrust and gravity. Then came that never to be forgotten day when he was presented with his Naval Aviators wings of gold and off he went to the fleet.
He served aboard the U.S.S. Hancock CV-19 primarily in the Gulf of Tonkin at what was known as Yankee Station. In our all too brief conversation he recalled some of the more memorable moments of that service. They include such hair raising experiences as flying in total blindness due to the darkness of night exacerbated by heavy cloud cover also known as instrument meteorological conditions for more than three hours before even seeing the carrier deck just moments before touch down. As it turned out that was not a rare experience. Then there was the time his still learning copilot erred resulting in the aircraft going off of the deck and just barely being saved by the wire they had caught suspending them above the deep blue sea. Moments such as these fill the memories of thousands of men [and in more modern time’s women] who have served aboard an aircraft carrier. Many of those irrepressible memories are what to a large extent guide Charles Faerber when he set about writing “Zulu Time” and it is that experience and that has helped him to create a thoroughly compelling play.
However long before Charles Faerber even considered writing “Zulu Time” he had other things to do. Upon release from active duty he quickly became a professional news reporter and editor and even owned and published a local San Diego area newspaper. Between his peaceful days on the charming campus on Dartmouth to his current position in the newspaper world Charles Faerber had passed through a world of incredible and never ending intrigue and drama that would forever shape his life. So combining his experiences and desires he entered a contest sponsored by a major film studio. His story was about a Naval Aviator who became a POW. His script did very well in the competition and Charles Faerber was inspired to move northward to Los Angeles a/k/a Hollywood.
Being a wise and talented man Charles Faerber quickly gained a good “day job” handling public relations for the National Notary Association. The wise and practical Charles worked there but the artist within him also emerged and he soon began writing more plays. His next effort was “Acropolis Now” a musical produced at the National Notary Association and was in large part to aid the City of Hope. It was a huge success.
Getting back to the ravages of war themes Charles Faerber’s next play, “Counter Men” dealt with the terror of someone with a loved one serving in the Iraq War. So the story goes that should the day come when two uniformed Marines show up it is because your loved has been killed. Charles Faerber’s telling of that experience in “Counter Men” won him immense critical acclaim.
Next up for Charles Faerber was his hilarious comedic adaptation of Acropolis Now, the non-musical but severely funny “Greeks 6 Trojans 5.” It was joyously received by critics and audiences alike. But Charles couldn’t stay away from war themes and thus his next project was what had brought us together, “Zulu Time.”
For all of its ugliness and there was undeniably plenty of ugliness in and around the Vietnam War as in all war, there is also a certain magic that comes from living it and surviving it. There is also a level of unique bonding through shared experience that also evolves out the hell of combat. Over his years of experience Charles Faerber has demonstrated a unique and beautiful ability to apply his deep artistic skills to some of man’s most brutal experiences. Such depth can only come from someone who has lived the life and walked the walk.
So what is next for Charles Ferber? Only time will tell. But my wish is for some version of his basic premise set forth in “Zulu Time” to catch the eye of a major Hollywood producer, get transformed into a screen play and distributed in wide release. In my lifetime the United States of America has found itself at war in World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and probably a dozen other places little known. For all who have experienced those deadly conflicts and survived there are an unlimited number unique and powerful stories that deserve to be told. Charles Ferber has proven himself to a masterful story teller and he tells stories that the world needs to hear.
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Copyright © 2015 Ron Irwin