A play that seeks to put a very personal touch on the issue of homelessness has made its way through six cities across the nation and will end its tour at San Jose's Tabard Theatre.
Playwright Jim Reyland was compelled to write STAND, about the life and challenges of Johnny "JJ" Ellis, a homeless man he met while volunteering through his church for an organization called Room in the Inn in Nashville.
The play has been performed numerous times in Tennessee and will be shown in San Jose on Oct. 22-24 with the hope of raising awareness about homelessness. Proceeds will go to HomeFirst, Santa Clara County's largest provider of shelter and services for the homeless.
"I had been very involved with working with the homeless," Reyland said. "When I first saw [Ellis], he had his cup and was pretty beat up, just leaning against a trash can. At first I didn't do much. ... I just said hello to him every day and we became friends."
For three years as the relationship developed, Reyland learned more about Ellis, how he had been brought up and how he ended up on the streets. He learned also about his two-decade struggle with addiction.
"Then I started trying to help him get mental health services and get him somewhere more humane than the metal grate he was sleeping on," Reyland said. "The play recounts all that."
"It's all about giving dignity; when someone is as far down as Johnny was, there is no dignity," he said. "But he got to spend a few more nights inside, and he had many friends when he passed."
Reyland said the play is going to cities "in need of this story and this conversation" about homelessness. Rather than looking at homelessness through the lens of statistics, the playwright wants audiences to get to know the people affected by it.
He points out that while each individual has his or her own story, there are common threads and challenges that many face.
The tour was made possible by a grant from Hospital Corporation of America, and proceeds benefit local organizations along the way that serve the homeless population.
Actor Barry Scott plays JJ and Henry Arnold plays the role of Mark, the man who befriends him. At first, Mark's character is representative of many in the United States who don't understand why JJ can't just pull himself up by his bootstraps--until he learns his backstory.
"It's poignant, uplifting and funny," Reyland said. "Johnny was engaging and charismatic, so there's lots of belly laughs. It puts a personal face on homelessness."
For tickets to STAND, call (408) 679-2330 or visit tabardtheatre.org. The local production is sponsored by Good Samaritan Hospital and Regional Medical Center.