A while back John Diehl mentioned that he was interested in a piece of rusting sheet metal half buried in our oak grove at the northern property line (Palimsest, 2010-06-22). When we got around to clearing the thistles beneath the oaks, Griffin hauled the tin fully to the surface and trucked it down to John in the East End.

John makes his living as an actor but has always made art. This morning I stopped in at THE/Main Gallery and looked at the ten pieces he has on display - mostly sculpture and a few oil paintings. I suspect that his sculptural pieces have been created over a long period of time - there is none of that manic iterative process that is at the heart of creativity whereby the artists digs himself out of hole by producing piece after piece of almost non-existent difference until a new direction slowly emerges out of the sameness.

Here, instead, is work of many directions but with an abiding theme: America embodied in the matrix of family, materialism and spirituality. The best work has a primal, earthy quality - like Tabernacle - a glazed adobe box with small openings revealing an intriguing, mystical interior of black shard-like planes; Traveling Church which is quite literally a small model church on wheels and Ark, a patch-worked assemblage of wood and metal in the approximate form of an tiny diluvian boat clamped in a wood worker's vise: it appears to be in dry-dock awaiting a re-fit, awaiting the deluge. John Baldassari had signed the visitor's book with the admonition, "Keep it Real".

I was disappointed that the wrinkled, crinkled, oxidized, torn and earth-stained sheet metal we had donated to the cause was nowhere in evidence. Such found objects are, of course, capable of rising to art merely through their objectification on a gallery wall. Next show.

The gallery is neighbor to our office on East Matilija in Ojai and is run by Carl Thelander - on the ground floor of a Victorian cottage which also houses his environmental analysis and remediation practice, BioResource Consultants. Carl was a constant presence, as were we, at the Ojai Playwrights Conference which ended last weekend.

Robert Egan, the Director of OPC sets up this fascinating invitation: "to hear the voices of....playwrights who speak courageously and honestly about the world we live in". That we did, in seven shows that dealt with Palestine, Vietnam (two shows), 9-11 and its aftermath in Spain (the Madrid train bombings of 2004), the outing of a gay scout master; Big Pharma and the stunning slice of life (and suicide) from Len Jenkin, Psalm151: Heaven Have Mercy that somehow combined Runyonesque plot points (the mob and high-stakes gambling) with bleak suburban lives and even bleaker Florida senescence.

After the last performance, late afternoon Sunday - directed by a former client of mine Ron Lagomarsino - we emerged into the sunshine from the Zalk Theater on the grounds of Happy Valley reeling from our five day stint of play-watching. The political and social impacts of some of the world's thorniest issues had been expressed in terms of human drama and we engaged with them on a profound and soulful level. Lacking sets - all the plays are readings - the craft of the playwright and his or her actors, are expressed in startling clarity - and the structure of the play is witheringly exposed. Every audience member a dramaturg(e).

Such cultural festivals are reminders that we are remarkable mammals. And so young! In The Time before History - 5 million years of Human Impact, Touchstone, New York, 1997 Colin Tudge notes that Homo sapiens has been anatomically modern for some 100,000 years - but most mammals have lasted roughly a million years before they have become extinct or evolved into something else. Do we have 900,000 years to go and what, if anything, has Theater got to do with it?

Theater provides opportunities for re-invention, to establish space for emotional and intellectual reactions that we, as an audience, might not otherwise experience. Like all art forms it magnifies our existence. Artists function as shamans in our culture and they transmit their messages through their chosen medium: none is as immediate and transparent as Theater. Robert Egan uses the phrase, "the world we live in". Theater has the ability to blur the distinctions between that world and our lives such that we more fully inhabit the universe. We become of  the world rather than merely living in the world.

If our species has a future it depends on our participation in the larger cosmic-biological nature of the planet. That participation might begin with a connection to the idea of what it is to be a Palestinian in a Lebanese refugee camp (Urge For Going, Mona Mansour) or a confused adolescent (Wild Animals You Should Know, Thomas Higgins) and ultimately extend outwards to other species and even elemental features of the planet; to become part of the world in all its variety rather than apart: to eliminate the notion of environment, and establish humankind in a reciprocal relationship with all that surrounds it, except that in this process we absorb the meaning of our surroundings as the environment absorbs us, eschewing separateness.

Painting and sculpture inhabit a space where our customary ways of seeing are knocked askew. The church with wheels that John Diehl presents (Traveling Church) extends the range of the possible.

In a gallery we stand ready to receive new meaning - a piece of rusted sheet metal perhaps a portal to a deeper involvement in the cosmos.