Accomplished playwright happy to be back at North Coast Rep in Solana Beach

Actress Rosina Reynolds and playwright Lionel Goldstein. Courtesy photo

By Kristina Houck

Lionel Goldstein never wanted to be a playwright. In fact, he spent decades being just about everything but a playwright.

From electrician and hairdresser, to antique silver dealer and slot machine repairman, Goldstein held a series of jobs in multiple fields before entering the arts.

“I didn’t want to do it at all,” said the 78-year-old British writer, whose “Mandate Memories” made its world premiere April 9 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

Goldstein started writing short stories at age 19. He wrote his first novel in his 20s, and three more in his 30s.

He reluctantly became a playwright when executives at the BBC asked him to adapt his second novel, “The Executioner,” into a play for television.

“I sent them an outline and they wanted me to write a play,” he recalled. “I resisted. I said, ‘I don’t have a play, I don’t want to write a play and I’m not a playwright.’”

After a bit of persuasion, he eventually took on the job. The BBC produced the play in 1980.

Nearly 35 years later, Goldstein, 78, recently introduced his latest work to North Coast Rep.

A two-person drama set in an old house in Berkshire, England, “Mandate Memories” follows Gustav Frolich, an 80-year-old Jewish Holocaust survivor, and Jane Stirling, a 62-year-old English widow. Frolich wants to share something with Stirling, but she isn’t receptive because Jewish terrorists killed the father she never knew during the days of the British Mandate for Palestine.

While the play is set in 2009, its title is derived from the era of Middle East history just before the 1948 founding of Israel. Although its characters and story do not come from his own memories, the play somewhat brings Goldstein full circle to his childhood. As a child, he and his family evacuated London several times during World War II.

“The play is really about redemption and how people react when they’re confronted with completely different circumstances — when ordinary people are changed by extraordinary events,” Goldstein said.

This isn’t the first time Goldstein has worked with the Solana Beach-based theater.

North Coast Rep’s Artistic Director David Ellenstein directed Goldstein’s “Halpern and Johnson” at the local theater, in addition to productions in Maine, Miami and Portland.

“Mandate Memories” was also presented as a reading at North Coast Rep a few years ago.

“It’s such a delight,” said Goldstein. “It’s extremely pleasant. It’s a very dedicated and competent team.”

Although he didn’t want to be a playwright initially, Goldstein has grown to love collaborating with others on stage. What he enjoys most about his career is creating something that gives others an opportunity to also create.

“The thing I enjoy most is it gives people employment,” he said.

“Once I did some scenes in a London underground train station, complete with a train and everything. There were loads and loads of people for that day’s filming. That gave me a big kick that I had written something that gave employment to loads and loads of people. That was nice.”

“Mandate Memories” runs through May 4 at North Coast Rep, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive.

“Enjoyment — just the same as with everything else. That’s what I hope the audience takes from this play,” Goldstein said. “That’s why I write.”

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