McGarry’s New Play Breaks Her Own Code

By Steven Libowitz   |   August 31, 2021
Claudia Hoag McGarry’s “Breaking the Code” will premiere on August 28 at Center Stage Theater

Santa Barbara writer Claudia Hoag McGarry has been involved in the arts in town for more than 30 years, including teaching English Skills at SBCC for more than three decades, publishing three novels including two thrillers and a young adult memoir, producing four plays all in the historical drama genre, and writing screenplays and even a TV pilot that was optioned. When COVID hit, the urge to paint arose, and McGarry persevered through the pandemic by putting out more than 450 watercolors of local scenes, while a line of postcards based on the pictures have shown up in shops including Kathryne Designs in Montecito, which will soon exhibit 20 or so paintings.

So, penning her first fictional play, one that’s a romantic comedy to boot, isn’t that far afield for the prolific McGarry, yet it’s still different enough to have given her pause — and an impetus to do some research.

“I was wanting to experiment with writing a romantic comedy, so I read a little Neil Simon and some of Sarah Treem’s work, even though [the co-creator and showrunner of the Golden Globe-winning Showtime drama The Affair] is more of a modern feminist writer,” McGarry explained. “So, I figured I’d try to do a modern twist on an old-fashioned romantic comedy.”

The result is “Breaking the Code”. The title comes from a Leonard Cohen poem, which to McGarry alludes to the premise that “love never really goes away but stays present deep inside of you.”

It’s the main character, Christy Pastence, a “somewhat lonely” almost 50-year-old widow playwright living in the Upper West Side in Manhattan who meets a young Pakistani American on a bench in Central Park. A conversation turns to friendship and eventually romance, a challenge for Christy who has yet to let go of her feelings for her dead husband.

“She has to break through that to be involved in this new relationship,” McGarry explains, adding that every character in the play — including the young lover, his mother, Christy’s sister (whose own husband may or may not have committed suicide), and her daughter — has to break a code of something that’s been holding them back in order to move forward. What sounds like a lesson in psychology has a lot of levity, McGarry said, and eventually all of the characters “find the key to harmony.” 

The only question is whether it’s the characters or the playwright — who is working once again with director Jordana Lawrence and a cast of local part-time actors — who get the most joy out of the experience of Breaking the Code, which premieres at 3 and 7 pm on August 28 at Paseo Nuevo’s Center Stage Theater, before moving on the next afternoon to Namba Arts Center in Ventura. 

“I’m not looking for a producer in Hollywood to buy my material anymore. It’s so wonderful to get to the point where I have enough of a following to just do what I love. It’s pretty satisfying at a certain age to only do things that make you happy.”

Focus on Film

The 37th Santa Barbara International Film Festival is barely more than six months away. Hopefully the pandemic will have released its hard fist by March 2-12, 2022, when the plans call for SBIFF — which went with a hybrid virtual-drive in fest last April — will take place in-person with a schedule bumped back up to 200-plus international and independent films, plus celebrity tributes, industry panels, and all the usual trimmings.

At this time, SBIFF has put its initial batch of passes and ticket packages on sale at a healthy 25 percent, but it only lasts until August 31. And with COVID still causing havoc on gatherings, the fest is currently selling fewer passes than usual, so there’s more than one incentive to secure them now.

Back online, SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling has rescheduled his chat with Arthur Schmidt, the 84-year-old film editor who logged nearly 30 film credits between 1977 and 2005, including a nine-movie collaboration with Montecito-dwelling director Robert Zemeckis spanning all three Back to the Future blockbusters, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away. Rabbit and Gump earned Schmidt Oscars while his work on 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter was nominated for the Academy Award. Join them at 5:30 pm on Thursday, September 2. 

Also, Durling’s Cinema Society post-screening Q&A sessions with filmmakers from new movies, TV and streaming shows conducted at the Riviera Theatre that have been posted to SBIFF’s YouTube channel include Bring Your Own Brigade, Stillwater (with actor Matt Damon and director Tom McCarthy) and Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (with director Morgan Neville). Visit for more on the film fest. •MJ


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