Gather round, grown-ups, for tales of pets and marriages

Actor Liz Cole pulls a circle of adults around her reading chair, her lamp and her mama's rug to relive the childhood pleasure of being told a story

Remember when you were a kid and the teacher gathered your class in a circle and read you a story? Well, turns out you don’t have to be a child to savor story time.

Professional actor Liz Cole came up with the idea of Story Time for Grown-Ups one day while she pondered what she really loved to do. The answer was two-fold: ride a bike and read beautifully written poems and stories. She took her idea for a series of story times to the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita and got the go-ahead. She’s been hosting a story time about once a year for the six years since.

“It’s been just wonderful,” she said. The content of the shows is a mix of poems and little stories, with a heavy emphasis on poems because of their conciseness. Each show lasts a little over an hour, followed by any conversation the audience might want.

“Nearly all the poems and stories are the work of others, culled mostly from my bookshelves and the internet,” Cole said. “I gather a whole bunch of material, then identify common themes, do a lot of winnowing, and end up with what I hope is a fine balance between light and dark pieces. I’ve increasingly emphasized lightness the last couple of episodes, possibly because there’s more than enough darkness around.”

Actor Liz Cole says her Story Time for Grown-Ups aims to create an atmosphere like childhood, "or like childhood should have been." She will share stories and poems this week and next in Tillamook and Manzanita.

Actor Liz Cole says her Story Time for Grown-Ups aims to create an atmosphere like childhood, “or like childhood should have been.” She will share stories and poems this week and next in Tillamook and Manzanita.

In the coming week, Cole will present the series in two locations. This weekend, she’ll be on stage April 13 and 14 at the Tillamook Association for the Performing Arts (TAPA) with Reigning Cats and Dogs. On April 17, she will present Marriage and Other Lapses of Judgment at the Hoffman Center. Tickets are $15 and $10.

Cole said she always starts by arranging chairs in as close to a circle as the Hoffman Center’s small space allows. “I bring my actual reading chair from my office and my lamp and my table and my mama’s rug,” she continued. “I make a point that we are gathered in a safe, quiet place to listen to stories read by someone who cannot wait to share these stories with you. So, it is like childhood or like childhood should have been.”

Cole presented the pet-themed stories last year at the Hoffman Center. “The readings are meant to answer the question: Who are these four-legged creatures that run our households and hold our hearts in their paws?” Cole said. “The evening will include stories and poems about (and by) cats and dogs, to share some of the ways our fur friends captivate, annoy, and rule. It will be a joyous feast for all animal lovers.”

This will be Cole’s first time offering “Marriage and Other Lapses of Judgment.” Given the title, it would be easy to assume that she is no fan of the institution. But we all know what they say about people who assume. Cole has been married for more than three decades to Peter Newman, long-time broadcaster at Seattle’s classical radio station KING FM.

“I don’t actually think that marriage is a lapse of judgment,” she said. “I have been happily married for 34 years. When we say happily, we mean we have come through a lot and we have weathered it and come through it all the better when the crisis is over. I am a fan of marriage. Lots of lapses of judgment happen within the complicated frame of marriage.”

The topic has intrigued Cole for some time, but she was wary of presenting it, because it is a complicated issue. She tried out the title on friends and always managed to elicit a laugh. So, after thinking about it for a couple of years, she decided to go ahead, approaching it as lightly as possible. Planned readings run the gamut from Elizabethan playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe to Stephen Dunn, who won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

David Dillon said watching Cole give the readings is a treat. “She isn’t just reading stories or poems — she’s putting herself into them,” said Dillon, who leads the Hoffman Center’s film program. “Great actors can disappear into a role, and Liz is a great actor.” He added, “She always draws a crowd.”

Cole has had a long acting career on the professional stage, and has also made TV guest-star appearances under the name Megan Cole on shows including Seinfeld, ER, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Practice, Judging Amy, and Las Vegas. She performed the leading role in Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Wit in 1995, for which she received the L.A. Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Outstanding Performance.

Originally from Waukegan, Ill. (Jack Benny’s hometown), Cole fell for Manzanita after honeymooning there with Newman in 1987. Family helped the couple come up with the down payment on a tiny house, and they traveled when possible from their home in Seattle for weekends on the Oregon Coast.

They moved there permanently in 2003.

“We were incredibly lucky to find a wonderful house big enough for each of us to have our private space,” Cole said. “That is essential to a marriage. There are probably some couples out there happy living in a studio apartment for 50 years. That is not Peter and me or anyone I know.”

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