By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and Forth: Good memories, new impressions formed in revisiting theater venues

A significant pleasure in returning to McMinnville this year has been attending local theatrical productions. We’d missed these samples of local culture, which only gradually started returning earlier this year.

This month, a week apart, I saw two terrific productions, first “All Together Now” at Gallery Theater, and then “Treasure Island” at Linfield University.

The Gallery show was a straightforward musical revue featuring top-level performances of Broadway show tunes.

Linfield’s production was marked by impressive performances, tech work and special effects, along with a remarkable set. It was exciting to sit — for the first time in almost two years — in a theater with every seat filled.

In both cases, happily, vaccination proof and consistent masking were required.

The students were clearly thrilled to be performing live again. The same could be said for one of the faculty members in the cast, adjunct professor Douglas Soderberg, a friend since our Linfield days together in the late 1970s.

Both nights of theater revived memories of my own times on stage in McMinnville. I can say from experience that there is nothing quite like projecting to a full house.

Ten years ago, I performed with two other actors on the Gallery stage, during a community theater conference. Visiting from CAST Theater in Hood River, we brought to Gallery the one-act “Judgment Call,” about three baseball umpires in a pre-season moment of crisis.

My Hood River theater experience began when my wife, Lorre, and I were recruited to portray “Editor and Mrs. Webb” in a “typecasting” version of “Our Town.” The roles were all filled by people who worked those jobs in real life — the choir director, policeman, undertaker, doctor and editor included.

At Linfield in the late 1970s, I was in two shows, both in the old theater in Pioneer Hall. In 1977-78, it was “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by Ted Desel, with Soderberg cast in the male lead role as Benedick. In 1979-80, it was “Cabaret,” directed by Dennis Lamberson.

Both proved strange and bewildering experiences, though for differing reasons.

“Much Ado” was just plain new to me, as I had virtually no acting experience. And I had to memorize a long speech as Friar Francis with no real understanding of what it all meant.

“Cabaret” came just after I spent a year studying in Israel.

I portrayed the Nazi Ernst Ludwig. Between having to sing the sinister “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” a folk song twisted into Hitler’s anthem, and recite some dark and hateful dialogue, this carried an emotional strain.

The Pioneer theater “lobby” was a tiny space that would comfortably hold only about 20. The theater itself seated not many more.

The old communications department lay just downstairs. In consisted of a couple of classrooms and the old KSLC studio, its walls lined with LPs.

In those days, the studio owned just one video camera, which I’m told you had to check out from the department head, the late and beloved Dr. Craig Singletary. I last saw Craig in 2015, for the first time in many years.

Shows are no longer performed in Pioneer, but in the larger, more comfortable Marshall Theatre complex. It’s in the Ford Building, next to Nicholson Library at the south end of campus.

“Treasure Island” was the first show I’d seen there, but I got a tour about four years ago from faculty member Brenda DeVore Marshall. Upon learning I’d been in two shows on the old Pioneer stage, she invited me to add my handprint to the wall, beside those of other Wildcat thespians.

Seeing Doug as the pirate Billy Bones brought me back to seeing him in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and other plays at Linfield. It also reminded me of the many things I learned from him and others about the theater — all part of my education as a Wildcat.

Gallery presents a Christmas show in December, and Linfield next has a live show, “Heathers, the Musical,” slated for spring.

Like Linfield, Gallery has ramped up the size of its productions and made the auditorium and lobby more spacious, welcoming places over the years. It feels great to be back.

I wish I remembered who it was I met on my Gallery visit of 10 years ago, in case we meet again. I’ve yet to talk in detail with Sharon Hanson and others involved in the Shakespeare-meets-Star Wars show then — it WAS 1978 — but I know I’m not the only person with vivid memories of the production.

From a personal standpoint, it’s rewarding to see actors on stage again.

I can relate to the pleasure they must be feeling at getting back to presentation of their craft for live audiences again. These experiences definitely stick with you.

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at kirby@newsregister.com or 503-687-1291.

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