Our grand elder statesman of the local theater scene is at it again, extending even further what already ranks as the longest run on Twin Cities record.

When last we encountered John Ficca practicing his art, it was two years ago, at age 85, wearing his director's cap on behalf of Heartland Theatre's  "Heroes," a Tom Stoppard adaptation of a French comedy success.

The play's subject matter was a good fit, Ficca noted at the time: a trio of World War I vets who spend their days ruminating on life on the terrace of their retirement home.

He told us that he was especially energized by Stoppard's adaptation, with its mesh of wit, pathos and absurdist touches ... all in the name of what he described as "the struggle against the dying of the light." 

For Ficca, who staged his first B-N production 61 years ago (1956) and retired from Illinois Wesleyan University's theater faculty 15 years ago, the light shines on.

If there's a struggle, he's not showing it.

Two years older but no less engaged with his art, Ficca is moving from the director's chair to the Heartland stage, where he'll offer a reading next weekend (7:30 p.m. Dec. 9, 3 p.m. Dec. 10) of a play that has been materializing before us in various forms since the early 1980s.

Joining Ficca will be a quintet of familiar faces from the local thespian pool: Dave Krostal, Todd Wineburner, Cathy Sutliff, Devon Lovell and Rhys Lovell.

"Safe Like the Sparrow Hawk," one of a series of autobiographical plays Ficca has authored over the years, was originally written in the early 1980s.

It grew out of two experiences that impacted his life: his childhood growing up in an Ohio steel mill town and his subsequent Korean War experience in the early 1950s.

The central theme is the return to the ethnic world of a young soldier, the son of recent Italian immigrants. With his younger sister, he must cope with a family crisis that impacts and strains against all their efforts at maintaining a home.

We first encountered this story on a local stage 36 years ago ... to this very day, in fact: Dec. 3, 1981, on the stage of what was then IWU's McPherson Theatre (since renamed the Jerome Mirza Theatre).

Ficca also directed; in the cast was future TV star Alison LaPlaca, billed as "Alison Jo LaPlaca," and later known for playing the role of sassy Linda Phillips on the Fox sitcoms "Duet" and its spin-off, "Open House."

LaPlaca, of course, is just one of the future stars Ficca directed/taught during his IWU tenure (among the others, most famously: future Best Actor Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins, currently on movie screens in "LBJ" and Guillermo Del Toro's upcoming holiday award contender, "The Shape of Water").

After becoming a finalist in the Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference in 1983, "Sparrow" flew again at IWU in 1991 ... but in a re-worked, re-titled version, this time christened "Friday in America."

With another 26 years having flown, "Sparrow" is back under its original title, with its author in tow ... and no diminishing of the light in sight.

Get hep for the holidays: Our favorite jazz maniac hereabouts, Glenn Wilson, is the maestro of improvising jazz combos for every occasion and/or season ... be it Shakespeare Fests or his ongoing monthly Further Jazz film series at the Normal Theater.

For December, he's forgoing a film for his Normal Theater gig on behalf of an all-live Further Jazz Holiday Concert at 7 p.m. Dec. 9.

Starring will be Wilson's latest configuration for the occasion.

"We're calling it the Further Jazz Heptet," he says.

And it will take, he adds, "many configurations, from duo to large ensemble, playing your holiday favorites in contemporary jazz musical settings."

Besides Glenn on sax, there'll be Chip Stevens on piano and George Turner on guitar, with Jane Smolen and Drew Dahan handling vocals.

All them, and a Further Jazz String Quartet, too, plus "some guest sitter-inners as well as a sing-along."

Swing along will be more like it we bet. (Tickets are $10 general, $5 for students/seniors.)

Giving the gift of art: Don't forget to head to the campus of Illinois State University next weekend for its annual triple-threat weekend of holiday art sales: the Printmakers' Exhibition & Sale, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 8 in Room 123 of the Center for the Visual Arts; the Ceramics Sale, same hours and day, in the "Airport Lounge" area of Centennial West; and the Glass Sale, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 9 in the ISU Glass House at Main and Willow, complete with its must-see glass-blowing demonstrations.

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com