As much as we locals love the Oregon Coast, it’s always a bit of a surprise to find ourselves in the company of celebrities here. It’s not, after all, New York or L.A. or even Portland. But it is the Oregon Coast, and for many of us, actor/director/producer George Dzundza included, that’s more than enough.
You may recognize Dzundza from any number of films and TV shows — The Deer Hunter, Basic Instinct, Dangerous Minds, Law & Order, Grey’s Anatomy — but these days he’s staying busy with Rising Tide Productions. Dzundza co-founded the nonprofit performing arts group based in Tillamook County in 2016. Its mission: “To develop the acting and stagecraft skills of participants, bringing entertaining, enlightening, and thought-provoking works to the public.”
Rising Tide’s next production is Edward Albee’s Seascape, the 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama in which a pair of empty-nesters, Charlie and Nancy, are joined by a pair of sea lizards, Leslie and Sarah.
We talked with Dzundza about Seascape, his work in theater, and life on the Oregon Coast. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
You’ve called Netarts home for about 15 years. What brought you to the Oregon Coast?
Dzundza: My wife has family here and we started coming up here with my family maybe 30 years ago. As soon as I got here I kind of turned around and said, “Whoa, what a great place. I’ve got to remember this and I’m not telling anyone about it.” When it was time to retire, we bought some property and built a home here.”
Netarts is pretty tiny. Does it ever feel too small, too distant?
I love everything about it. I love the people. I love the terrain. I love being by the ocean. I love the home I have. I love the trees. I love the temperatures. Everything about it for me is heavenly. I came from two hostile places: New York, which can be brutal. The summers are hot and humid. Winter can be very, very severe. And then I lived in California. It’s nice weather, but they don’t tell you about the smog and bad air and the days that come in at like 120 degrees. Here it is absolutely moderate. During the winter, most of the time you can get by with sweatshirt and hat. For the most part, days are like now: bright, sunny, brilliant.”
Did you intend to start a theater group when you moved here, or did that come after?
That developed from a situation where people approached me and asked if I would be interested in getting involved in their theater group. I had a play I wrote with another fellow, so we did that play. Then I did a couple of other plays at that theater. When some members said they’d like to do more serious stuff, more cutting edge, we formed Rising Tide Productions. Our first play was I Am My Own Wife, by Doug Wright. It’s based on a true event in which this transgender woman was able to live through the Nazis and then the Communists as a woman even though she was a biological male. It was very well received. After that we did Doubt, and that went pretty well, as well.
Are those the sort of plays audiences can expect from Rising Tide in the future?
Rising Tide is about doing things that you won’t ordinarily see. The group wants to tackle projects that make you think, that make you look at things, explore and show sides of life that will not only improve the human condition now, but for generations. I may be delusional, but every journey begins with the first step.
For example, I Am My Own Wife dealt with a lot of the prejudice gays and transgenders have experienced. Doubt dealt with pedophilia, leaving it up for the audience to figure out themselves. I think they enjoyed the experience.
What can you tell us about Seascape?
It’s a fascinating play that addresses marital issues and the way that a husband and wife interact, how they plan, how older age factors into things in life, and the unspoken things. When you explore those, you go into a deeper level where you are dealing in metaphor. Albee found a curious way to do it. The second act is based on sea creatures crawling out of the ocean and talking with two people. To watch the communication — how do you communicate with people who don’t have the same vocabulary? Where is the understanding? Is it more important the way the person looks or what they understand? This is one of the reasons it won the Pulitzer. It addressed those issues and did it in a very unique way. It’s a complex play, but belly laughs galore.
You recently stepped down as president of Rising Tide Productions. Why?
I was the president for a long time. Margaret Page, who was a founding member, is now our president. I felt that the group needed to function on its own without my overriding things. I’m very advanced in years and I feel it is time for the younger people to take over and carry the banner. I’m encouraging everyone in our group to continue and to tackle projects that make people think.
Is local theater strong on the Oregon Coast?
It goes in an ebb and flow. It depends on how much the youth wants to be involved or are captured by the idea of theater. It depends on groups like NCRD (North Coast Recreational District). Theater is a blood event. This is an event that happens. When you go to a movie, it’s two-dimensional and set in stone. If you go to a play, you are a director of sorts. You have a direct, visceral response. It’s spatial and it’s different. Some of the audience will focus on one character, another on a different character. That’s what makes it so unique and individual. It’s one of the most individual experiences and it’s happening right this second. There is an immediacy to it that is very exciting.
COVID-19 took a toll on the theater. Rising Tide had to cancel a performance of I Am My Own Wife just the day before opening. What have you taken from the pandemic?
Right now, I believe we need to do as much as we can as a group, as a community, to provide something for people to look at and respond to. To feel they are being engaged in the community. After the horrors of the last years, you want to say, “We’re not dead; let’s keep moving forward.”
Seascape opens Friday, Sept. 2, with performances at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 25 at the NCRD Performing Arts Center in Nehalem. Tickets are $20 and available at the door.