The Rainbow Bridge – An Interview With Writer Ron Nelson on his Latest Comedy Created From Tears



In the opening minutes of his new play, The Rainbow Bridge, Ron Nelson manages to pull laughter from the audience, despite the very somber subject matter of the scene. Comedy writers seem to know, intuitively, exactly how to walk that line between tears and laughter. One step on the wrong side, at the right time…and disaster could strike. It’s something that most onlookers can relate to, and look forward to, finding humor through the tears. American humorist Erma Bombeck noted, “There is a thin line that separates laughter from pain, comedy from tragedy, humor from hurt,” and she built a very successful career on it.



At Ruskin Group Theatre, now in their second decade across from the Santa Monica airport, they look for works that celebrate the essence and the tenacity of humanity that is able to connect us all. From their Ovation Award nominated production of A Raisin in the Sun to producing brand new musicals such as Paradise: A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy, the company engages the community in conversation, ideas, and culture through the performing arts. Events include a monthly offering of the Café Plays, an evening of 10 minute shorts created and produced within the same day, and taking place within a café. Library Girl is another popular offering at the Ruskin (writers on stage in a spoken word fashion), and musical offerings with bands and solo artists.

Ron Nelson’s new work runs on the main stage and it will be his first experience having a full length play produced by this. His writing talent was noticed during his many submissions to the monthly Café Plays. He was interviewed by Splash on July 18, 2017.



Ester: Did you think of yourself as a writer at an early age? What other careers have you had?

Ron Nelson: I didn't start making a living as a writer until I was about 30, which is kind of late by industry standards. I've also practiced law, done stand up, and one summer I was responsible for un-sticking golf balls from machines at a driving range while half-drunk, unemployed guys placed bets on who could drive a ball closest to my face.

Ester: Sounds as if you’ve got a wealth of experience in which to mine story ideas. Was writing for the Rosanne show the start of your comedy-writing career? How did that come about?

Ron Nelson: It wasn’t the start, but it was an important credit. I was still practicing law and it was a freelance job that I sort of stumbled onto. Before that I had sold some animated pitches and sketches to various shows. My first paid job was doing stand up at a sparsely attended Jewish singles dance in a hotel at Century City, for fifty bucks (which, in retrospect, was not nearly enough). 


Ester: Another story, or perhaps a series to pitch! Why did you write “The Rainbow Bridge?”

Ron Nelson: I experienced some tragic events analogous to the one Jerry (the lead character in the play) has to deal with. Once the wounds became a little less raw, I suspected they might serve as an interesting springboard for a comedic play that addresses some of the issues I had to address at the time. Things that many people have to deal with in life.


Ester: What has been the biggest surprise to you while staging the play during rehearsals?

Ron Nelson: How many cigarettes and diet cokes I can consume during the course of a day. Also, that Trump is still president.

Ester: How does the collaboration work with the director and the producers at the Ruskin? Has the script continued to develop?

Ron Nelson: In addition to the cast, which is extraordinary, I love working with Mike Myers, John Ruskin, Nicole Millar, Emily Ann Bell and everyone at the Ruskin. This team is smart, funny and committed to making the play work as well as it possibly can. Structurally and thematically, the play hasn't changed much since we've commenced rehearsals. But, we've been making adjustments to ensure that it zips along while giving the emotional moments that pop up now and then room to breathe.


Ester: Do you like that process of development or do you find it uncomfortable, knowing that you’ll be doing rewrites?

Ron Nelson: I don't know that it's possible to write a comedy without doing a lot of re-writes. But to answer your question, yes…I like it the process of development, especially when I’m working with a strong team. Yes, I find it uncomfortable.

Ester: Who has inspired you the most as a writer?

Ron Nelson: My wife and daughter.  In a way, I consider this play a valentine to them for putting up with my madness and neuroses over the years. As far as writers go, who have inspired me over the years, I would say that would be Jules Feiffer, Joe Orton and Neil Simon.

Ester: On a scale from white to black, what color is your humor?

Ron Nelson: It's not “The Sound of Music” but it's not “Cries and Whispers” either. It changes color depending on the project. In this play, we deal with some issues that might make the most sensitive among us uncomfortable, and there's a bit of swearing, so if that's not your thing, you might be better off staying home and watching reruns of “Highway to Heaven” on Netflix instead.


Ester: What do you hope audiences remember about the experience of seeing your play?

Ron Nelson: Mostly, I hope they have fun for about an hour and a half. And if it makes them feel a little less alone in the world—because I hope there is a universality to some of the issues we explore—then that would be nice, too.

Ester: What’s next for you?

Ron Nelson: After the play opens, I'll probably go on a bender. After that, I think I'll write another play. I've liked this experience, and would like to try to replicate it.

The Rainbow Bridge stars Mary Carrig, Mouchette Van Helsdingen, Emily Jerez, Jaimi Paige, Paul Schackman, Lynne Marie Stewart, and L. Emille Thomas.

Photos by Ed Krieger

Opening at 8pm on Friday, July 21st and running at 8 p.m. Fridays – Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sundays, through September 17, 2017. Ruskin Group Theatre is located at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, seniors, and guild members) and can be purchased in advance by calling (310) 397-3244 or online here

Ample free parking available on site.   




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