Russ Fast, who died Feb. 20 at age 71 after a fight with cancer, left a lot of memories for a lot of people across a lot of areas when he moved on. He was a sometime musician – a drummer and backup singer – and made an early name for himself as a tap-dancer and lip-syncher. He was a man of the theater, performing, by his own count, in 143 productions in Portland, New York, Seattle, and elsewhere. He sometimes made his living as an accomplished voice actor, and worked regularly in film: movies, television, commercials, industrials. He directed, and taught acting. And with his friend, the actor B. Joe Medley, and Jeanne Medley he opened Character Actors, one of the first talent agencies in the Pacific Northwest.
Friends, family, and fans will gather from 2 to 4 p.m. next Saturday, March 30, for a celebration of remembrance in his honor at Milagro Theatre, 525 S.E. Stark St., where he once was “privileged to play my lifelong hero, Pablo Neruda,” in Burning Patience, Antonio Skarmeta’s play about the great Chilean poet. It’s open to all. There’ll be a light potluck, and attendees are encouraged to share memories and stories.
Russell George Fast was born July 19, 1947, in Pasco, Wash., and moved with his family while he was still in school to Portland. He graduated from Grant High School, then attended the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatrical Arts, toured with the school’s children’s theater, worked with the Hollywood Actor’s Group, and moved back north to work with the Director’s Studio in Seattle.
He found a theatrical home in Portland at the old Slabtown Stop Theater, working there for five years before heading for New York, where he studied at HB Studios and worked in more than a dozen shows Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway. In 1983 the New York Times reviewed a revival of the Greek comedy The Birds that Fast directed and in which he performed. “There is a good time to be had,” reviewer Richard F. Shepard began, “in the current presentation of The Birds, an ancient but not timeworn comedy by Aristophanes that opened in Athens in 414 B.C. and is now enjoying, in every sense, a revival, in English by the Greek Theater of New York.” Later, the review praised Fast’s direction, which “gives the show its fast-paced merriment,” and his performance as Euelpides, “a dimwitted straight man as bird or human.”
For all of his stage work, Fast was at least as well-known for his work on film. He played the lead, a young serial killer, in director George Hood and writer Don Gronquist’s 1973 made-in-Oregon feature Rockaday Richie and the Queen of the Hop (renamed Stark Raving Mad on its re-release) and voiced the Geographer in director Will Vinton and writer Susan Shadburne’s 1979 Claymation adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Éxupery’s The Little Prince. He had roles in several movies, among them Breaking In, with Burt Reynolds; The Temp, with Timothy Hutton; and Disney’s Don Knotts Western comedy Hot Lead and Cold Feet. He performed in about 20 television movies or series.
Fast moved back to Portland after his years in New York, and besides making films worked regularly for the city’s theater companies, including the old Portland Rep, Peter Fornara’s The Production Company (where he starred in Edward J. Moore’s O’Neill-inflected two-hander The Seahorse with Michele Mariana, who also played the Prince in Vinton’s The Little Prince), and Portland Civic Theatre. My own most indelible stage memory of Fast is from another two-hander, in Portland Civic’s intimate Blue Room, a wondrous and definitive performance with the late Lyn Tyrrell of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory.
Barbara Fast, his former wife, who cared for him in his final days, called Fast “the sweetest man in the world” and “my best friend since I was 14.” Their son Nathan Fast, in a Facebook post, called him “the greatest friend, mentor, man, teacher and of course Father that I could have ever wanted.” His friend and fellow actor Mariana remembered him as “an avid reader, a loyal friend, a kind, funny, deeply spiritual, fiercely private man ever curious and willing to learn.”
There’ll be more stories about Fast on Saturday at Milagro. If you have one, or want to hear some, drop on down.