Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating neurologic disease that robs its victims of their memory, dignity, and ability to enjoy life. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, more than 147,000 Angelos are living with the disease and more than 300,000 LA adults are providing care to Alzheimer’s sufferers. This month, a star-studded theatrical event is taking place on September 25th to benefit USAgainstAlzheimer's Network, a national advocacy organization dedicated to stopping Alzheimer’s by 2020.
The event is the brainstorm of comedy writer Trish Vradenburg. She developed a keen interest in Alzheimer’s disease after becoming a caregiver to her mother who died of Alzheimer’s in 1992. Trish told me that a component of her philosophy of life is that one must laugh in the face of aversity. With that concept in mind, she wrote her two-act play, Surviving Grace, which is a brutally honest, irreverent and moving story – laced with humor - that sheds light on the emotional ups and downs that 15.4 million caregivers go through each day in the U.S. The play comes to Los Angeles after being produced at The Kennedy Center, off-Broadway, cross-country and in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Trish told me that at each event, the audience had an extremely positive reaction to the play. Last fall, Trish organized the first star-studded reading of Surviving Grace at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.
“I thought my mom was invincible, but she was no match for Alzheimer’s. I watched helplessly as her mind, her dignity, and finally her body vanished into the unforgiving chasm of Alzheimer’s,” said Trish. “So why a serious play with a large dose of humor? Because that’s how I survive life – if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. We have to bring this disease out of the shadows and into the spotlight; that is why I wrote Surviving Grace and why I’m excited to be sharing it during this special event.”
The Los Angeles premiere of Surviving Grace will be performed on September 25 at the Warner Bros. Theater in Burbank. It will feature a read-through of the first act by a legendary cast that includes Carol Burnett, Marilu Henner, Loni Anderson, Helen Reddy, Elliott Gould, Lou Gossett, Jr. and Brian McNamara.
The evening will begin with a celebrity red carpet at 6:30 p.m. followed by the play reading at 7:15 p.m. and dinner with the cast following the performance. The celebrity host committee also features a diverse group of performers dedicated to the cause, including: Ann-Margret, Ann Archer, Elizabeth Banks, Diahann Caroll, Richard Chamberlain, Joan Collins, Chace Crawford, Donna de Varona, Morgan Fairchild, Michael Feinstein, Carrie Fisher, Peter Gallagher, Phyllis George, Whoopi Goldberg, Linda Gray, George Hamilton, Samantha Harris, Tippi Hedren, Marilu Henner, Joanna Kerns, Donna Mills, Stefanie Powers, Seth Rogen, Maria Shriver, Molly Sims, Jill St. John, Maura Tierney, Joan Van Ark, Robert Wagner, and Henry Winkler, among others.
In addition to the LA event on Wednesday, September 25, a second performance will be held on Friday, September 27, 2013 in the Shiley Theatre at the University of San Diego. To purchase tickets in advance or to learn more about becoming a sponsor, click on this link.
“Although it touches so many of our lives, Alzheimer’s is rarely discussed in polite company,” said Carol Burnett. “I am thrilled to be involved in the Los Angeles production of Surviving Grace, which shows us that we can have these difficult conversations without losing our sense of humor along the way.”
“As a woman, I am twice as likely as a man to get Alzheimer’s in my lifetime, and two to three times as likely to act as a caregiver to a family member with the disease,” said Helen Reddy. “Anyone who cares about women’s rights should care about finding a cure for Alzheimer’s – which is why I am so excited to be a part of this special production of Surviving Grace.”
Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 70% of all cases of dementia. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, it is the seventh leading cause of death in both Los Angeles County and the rest of the United States. More than 326,000 baby boomers in the county are expected to develop the disease during their lifetime. Alzheimer’s affects one in three seniors, and one in two by age 85; in addition, 10% of victims are between the ages of 45 and 65. The number of Americans with the disease is projected to triple by 2050 – from 5.4 million to nearly 16 million – unless we find a treatment or cure. Alzheimer’s also has a disproportionate effect on women, who represent nearly two-thirds of Americans with the disease and 70% of caregivers.
USAgainstAlzheimer’s is a related 501(c)(4) national advocacy campaign and advocacy network committed to stopping Alzheimer’s by 2020. An independent non-profit organization working in partnership with the Alzheimer’s community, USAgainstAlzheimer’s works to stop the disease by advancing policies that support research for a cure. For more information about USAgainstAlzheimer’s, visit www.usagainstalzheimers.org.
Trish Vradenburg, playwright/author/comedy writer/advocate, began her career in Washington, DC, as a speechwriter in the US Senate. She says, "From there, I had nowhere to go but into comedy." She has written for various television shows including “Designing Women,” “Family Ties,” and “Kate and Allie.” She is a successful author as well, chosen as Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selections for her novel, Liberated Lady.