Sallie Walker didn't read The Land Southward until after she auditioned for it. She was more interested in playing a character her own age than in the particulars of the story itself.
However, once the Springs Ensemble Theatre named its cast, Walker began to do some research for her role as May, a 60-something survivor of above-ground nuclear bomb testing done in the 1950s.
"I found that no memory is shorter than the American public's memory," Walker says.
The Land Southward is a fictional-based-on-factual account, written by Orange County playwright Darcy Hogan and first staged in 2005, of how a nuclear test site in Utah affected "downwinders."
"It's a very human story; it's about the sadness, the loss and the frustration. It affects a whole generation. It's very moving," says Walker. "But it's also a very comedic play. Some of the points are really driven home."
Jason Lythgoe, SET director, describes the play as having a "non-linear story" set in the '50s and the present day. Military couple Joe and Maggie uphold the '50s storyline, which mingles with "over-the-top fantasy sequences" that the cast acts out live, such as the '50s educational film Duck and Cover and the '60s game show You Bet Your Life.
Meanwhile, in the present, May — as the only surviving member of her family — spends most of the play telling a young journalist, Liz, about her experience.
"My character has kept journals and fought the fight," Walker says. "[She was] forced into activism."
Throughout her research for the role, Walker uncovered a lot of interesting and maddening information. In fact, she stopped because she found herself livid every day at the injustice of it all: the miscarriages, the thyroid cancer cases, the deaths caused by the bomb testing, all swept under the rug.
Characters in the play mention pink snow falling after the explosions. Many of the children back then would play in it, Walker says. However, any car leaving the area was hosed off.
"What in the world could be safe for children but harmful for a Buick?" Walker asks.
"Does it piss you off yet?"