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‘One Minute of Happiness’ Tells of One Woman’s Tortured Relationship with Sister
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Monday, August 22, 2022
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Nanci Christopher remembers many idyllic trips to Sun Valley—her father reading the newspaper as he looked out onto Baldy, her mother conducting “walkie talkies” along the trails around Sun Valley and she and her sister Gloria spinning around on Sun Valley’s outdoor ice rink.

But the chaos that surrounded her sister’s descent into mental illness fractured the glass in that picture.

Christopher will return to Sun Valley this week to perform a reading of her one-person play “One Minute of Happiness” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, in the Bailey Studio at The Argyros.

The performance, presented in collaboration with Sawtooth Productions, will feature Field Daze co-founder Lila Claghorn as the narrator. It will be followed by a question and answer with Brittany Shipley, who heads up the Wood River Valley chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).

And that will be followed by a reception featuring some of Gloria’s artwork, as well as light refreshments, including red licorice, Swedish fish tamales, red hots and cinnamon gummi bears representing the two sisters’ love of red candy.

“Oh, and cupcakes because my sister and I baked hundreds of cupcakes,” Christopher said.

The play offers a poignant, tragic and sometimes humorous account of Christopher’s relationship with her bipolar sister. And it tells of their attempt to stay connected via their shared passion for baking.

“It’s a very powerful play,” said Christopher. “If I can help one person deal with their own mental illness or that of family members or friends that would be wonderful.”

Christopher trained for a time at Sun Valley with Frank Carroll, considered one of the world’s best skating coaches.

“I wasn’t one of his elite, but he treated us like we were all champions. He wanted us to be the best we could be,” said Christopher, who was friends with Sun Valley Olympic figure skaters Linda Fratianne and Judy Blumberg.

She went on to graduate from the University of California-Berkeley and spend 40 years as an actress and playwright in film, TV and theater, moving to New York where she worked in such soap operas as “All My Children,” One Life to Live” and “General Hospital.”

Eventually, she returned to California where she co-founded a theater company in Los Angeles and continued to appear in commercials and theater.

Her sister was also passionate about art and wanted to be an actress, taking acting classes with a top acting coach. But she was unable to move to New York with her sister because of her mental illness so she did the best she could in Los Angeles.

“She was tremendously gifted from the time she was a little girl,” said Christopher. “Her later work in the 1980s when she was in the grip of mental illness was very Picasso-like, very abstract. She was expressing what she was feeling inside through her art.”

Gloria was 31 when she took her own life.

“While that’s a tragic aspect of the play, the play offers hope,” Christopher said. “One of my goals is to honor my sister’s legacy and change the dialogue about mental illness. People are not mentally ill because they did something wrong—it’s faulty wiring in the brain.”

Christopher also wrote a solo show, “And Baby Makes Two” about adopting her son. The play ran at the Santa Monica Playhouse for more three months. It was published by Samuel French and nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

She is optimistic “One Minute of Happiness” will be as successful.

“I performed a reading at the Neurological Institute of Los Angeles and received a standing ovation afterwards,” she said.

Tickets to Tuesday’s performance are $10, available at https://theargyros.org/calendar/one-minute-of-happiness-a-tale-of-sisterhood-and-baking/

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