by Jim Mulligan
Mark Luzania, D.D.S. (last name rhymes with Tanzania) spent his whole childhood romping among the fruit trees and vineyards outside of Reedley, as well as riding his bike around town, having as much fun as a kid could have. As a little guy, his family lived north of town on their ranch. He remembers the times he and his siblings spent swinging from a rope tied to a tree out into the cold, swift-moving Kings River, having to swim like the dickens to get across to the other side. Luzania recalls those good times, “We’d run [barefooted] from weed patch to weed patch because the sand was so hot, to get back up stream to fight the current across, only to do it all over again.” Big changes came when, when he was eight years old his parents’ divorce forced his mom to move her five children into town to a house at 12th and D Street.
Times got a little tougher for the family as Luzania’s mother was now a single parent, relying on some government assistance, trying to provide for her kids. Nonetheless, at the time, he and his siblings kept up their youthful gallivanting, exploring Reedley by bicycle, largely unsupervised like many of us in the ‘70s. “You know, we got into some mischief back then, which wasn’t the end of the world, unless I got a bad grade,” remembers Luzania.
While he may not have known it back then, he recalls now how influential his mother was to him and his siblings. His mother’s disgust for needing public assistance, and the desire to provide for her children as best as she could, have had a tremendous impact on his life. He choked back some strong emotions of pride as he described, “She showed us by example. With five kids, she went back to school to become a nurse, which she did.”
Like many teens, Luzania didn’t always take the advice of the adults in his life. “I definitely gave my mom some grey hairs,” he recalls. In fact, after deciding that high school wasn’t really right for himself, he took and passed the high school exit exam. While not a conventional path, he set out to do some growing up. “And my mom packed my bags for me,” he chuckled, now with some wisdom under his belt. He spent some time in Long Beach chasing the dream of making it big in a band while working at Jack-in-the-Box. He and his band didn’t catch any breaks and he quickly realized that he might have to get back on track for something more lucrative. In the fall of 1978, Luzania headed back home to Reedley and told his mom he’d like to start college. Her response, “What are you going to do until then? If you don’t have a job you can hit the road.” So until he could start in the spring, he spent long hours as a crop duster flagman.
After a lot of fun and life lessons, Luzania made the decision to buckle down, and started on his educational journey to become a dentist. He remembered, “I knew I wanted to be a dentist since I was about ten years old. I think my dentist at the time, Dr. Powell, was a big influence. He was so polite and respectful; he didn’t mind having a conversation with a kid.” Luzania eventually completed coursework at Reedley College, Fresno City, and Fresno State before being accepted into the Dental School at UC San Francisco. After a few years of working at clinics in Parlier and Orange Cove, he opened up his new dental business smack dab in downtown Reedley, his old stomping ground. He’s been there since 1995.
Dr. Luzania’s story is not necessarily unique. We can likely point to many folks who grew up in small Valley towns, creating a stir here and there, taking the long road at times, finally growing up and settling down to become an important part of the community. Yet, it illustrates such an important aspect of small town life. People know people, and they look out for each other. Even if you think it doesn’t happen in 21st century Reedley, it does. Towns like Reedley provide opportunities for kids to be kids and to sometimes learn some hard lessons along the way. Very importantly, it brings people back to get involved, which brings us back to Mark Luzania.
After Luzania established his own dental practice in Reedley, he was able to set his sights on some artistic endeavors. In 1998, after attending a play at the 2nd Space Theater in Fresno, he decided to audition himself. He landed the part of a government agent in the theater’s production of You Can’t take it with You, and later portrayed Dad in a production called Dad’s Christmas Miracle. The acting bug had bitten, but it would be about thirteen years before he joined the group of folks doing great theater right here in his own hometown at Reedley’s River City Theatre Company. In fact, after a few roles, including Sir Danvers Carew in Jekyll and Hyde and Arthur Beasley in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, he was invited to be part of the Board of Directors, and currently serves as President of the Board.
As fellow board member and thespian Jeff Lusk told the story, Luzania has been an essential in bolstering live theater in Reedley. Lusk explained, “With the exit of some well-known theater folks in Reedley, the theater scene was struggling. I actually had lunch with Mark to discuss how we could get things going again back in February of 2019.”
Their discussions and partnership led to the formation of a new Board and line-up of their new season. Lusk added, “Mark is a great leader who leads by example. No duty is beneath him…I’ve even seen him clean toilets. And he’s not afraid to try new things; and sometimes they work!”
With Luzania at the helm of the new Board in 2020, they set out to have a bang-up season of just four shows with some changes that some regulars didn’t like, but made a lot of financial sense. Of course, we don’t need to detail what has transpired in the last few months. Live theater has come to a grinding halt in Reedley, as well as Selma, Fresno and even Broadway. While they are reluctant to announce when shows will start up again, because it’s really out of their control, there is one thing that is for sure: Luzania and his Board are using this time to plan the best reboot of Reedley’s River City Theatre as soon as it can happen.
For the most up-to-date information about Reedley’s River City Theatre and future shows, visit their website. You can also keep an eye on Kings River Life for local theatre news once theatre is going again.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors–many of whom you will have seen on local stages. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play, and also on Podbean. A new episode went up this week!