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"When we got the news, everyone around me was kind of falling apart, but I was relieved," Glines said last summer. "I knew what the problem was, and I just wanted to deal with it."
Glines, whose lifelong passion has been acting, was forced to take a 15-month sabbatical. During that time, he wrote Gabriel, a play produced in June as part of the Fullerton College Director's Festival. Gabriel was Glines' first play, but it signaled great promise. It was framed around a young man with a weak heart who is slowly wasting away in a hospital room. Love enters in the form of a spoiled volunteer nurse; romance flourishes amid the IVs and catheters. But unlike the triteness of an after-school special, there was no radiant happy ending.
Glines' life was more like the sappy after-school special. He beat his cancer. When his treatments ended in March, he jumped back into theater full time; in May, he was one of the highlights of a very good production of The Kentucky Cycle, directed by Jensen. Over the course of the play, Glines' character transformed from an energetic 16-year-old to a senile, drooling 80-year-old. In every scene, Glines either wore a hat or sported a buzzed haircut. It wasn't entirely by choice: his hair hadn't yet grown back after the chemo.
In June, Glines dominated the Fullerton College Playwrights Festival. In addition to his very fine play, Glines shone in Jonathan Mark Sherman's Womene and Wallace and Harold Pinter's The Dumbwaiter, both of which were selected as Best of the Fest entries.
Glines was enthusiastic about life. He'd found a lodestone of inspiration in the film The Dead Poets Society and its seize-the-day theme—he recently had the words "carpe diem" engraved on a watch he gave his girlfriend for her college graduation.
"That's what I strive for: to do as much as I can while I'm here and to learn and grow as an artist," Glines said. "And the best way to do that is to just do."
As recently as a few weeks ago, Glines' enthusiasm hadn't dimmed a bit. This semester, in addition to his work on Wallenberg, he played Oberon in Fullerton College's A Midsummer Night's Dream. He'd moved out of his parents' home and was going to school full time. His typical day consisted of class from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., rehearsal for Wallenberg from 2 to 5 p.m., and rehearsal for Midsummer's Night from 7 to 10 p.m. or even midnight. He was intimately involved in the planning of Fullerton College's annual high school theater festival, which is held every March. In addition, he was busily preparing to apply at top-tier universities, including Carnegie Mellon.
The busy schedule concerned his mother, who nonetheless admitted her son would have it no other way. "He thinks he's making up for a year and a half of not being able to do anything," she said. "This is his passion, and there's nothing else he would rather be doing. He has incredible energy and optimism."
Wallenberg is Jensen's first stab at writing a play. Since 1982, he's been a theater teacher and director. His influence on young actors is extensive—and two years ago, it earned him a lifetime-achievement award for contributions to Orange County theater from OC Weekly.
All that seemed to come naturally. But Wallenberg has been a struggle. He unveiled it two years ago at the Fullerton College Playwrights Festival. It was mostly documentary-style narration. And it was dull. "I knew when I looked over at [festival director] Bob Leigh," Jensen recalled. "I saw his head back and his mouth wide open, and a snoring sound came out of him, and I realized I'd created the worst punishment you can exact on anyone: a bad play. But it really helped me. And last spring, I made a more concerted effort to clean it up. But dramaturgically speaking, I know it still needs work."
Jensen's play is a mostly linear look at Wallenberg's life, from his arrival in Budapest in 1944 to his arrest and disappearance under Soviet occupation. One scene near the play's end introduces some of the many theories about what happened to Wallenberg.
What's clear is that in January 1945, with Hungary now under Soviet control, Wallenberg was arrested on a secret order issued by the Soviet Ministry of Defense. It was signed by Nikolai Bulganin, the deputy minister of defense and a member of Stalin's war cabinet.
"One theory is that the Soviets thought he was an American spy," Jensen said. "He had American money, and there was an official in the Swedish legation who was working for the OSS," the forerunner to the CIA. "Another theory is that the Soviets thought he was a Nazi sympathizer because they found so many Nazis escaping Hungary carrying his make-believe Swedish passport."
It may also have been Wallenberg's fanatical faith in his mission that was his undoing.
"He promised everybody everything," Jensen said. "Whatever someone wanted, he'd give—as long as it freed some Jews. He played all the fantasies; whatever would work in any situation he would use—chicanery, bribery, whatever. He had entrée to everybody, and the Soviets were very suspicious."