Riverbend Players goes to the dogs

After a quiet year, the Nehalem theater company is back with a fundraising play in which all the characters are canine

When Marilyn Karr first read the script for the upcoming Riverbend Players performance, she could barely finish it. The language was coarse, the males aggressive, and her character, Maggie, found them “disgusting.” 

But then, said Karr, “I thought, it’s just dog language.” Not woof-woof, of course, but the way a dog would talk were he one of us.

In the end, Karr signed on for two roles in the upcoming The Dog Logs. She’ll play Maggie, a golden retriever, and Savoir Faire, a greyhound.

Marilyn Karr, here with her border collie Journey, plays two roles in “The Dog Logs”: Savoir Faire, a single-minded greyhound, and Maddie, a golden retriever, who finds life, especially boy dogs, strange. Photo courtesy: Riverbend Players
Marilyn Karr, here with her border collie, Journey, plays two roles in “The Dog Logs”: Savoir Faire, a single-minded greyhound, and Maddie, a golden retriever who finds life, especially boy dogs, strange. Photo courtesy: Riverbend Players

After a year of mostly quiet, Nehalem-based Riverbend is putting on a live, virtual performance of the play by CJ Johnson in which all of the characters are canine, but with a take on life that is “touching and surprisingly human.” The performance is free, but donations are gladly accepted. All proceeds go toward relieving hunger through local North Coast organizations including the Little Apple Fund, which donates to several other nonprofits around the area.

“A lot of people are really hurting,” said Jeff Slamal, president of the Riverbend Players. “There are people that need to be fed, but some are reluctant to come forth and say, ‘I need help.’ We wanted to make it a local, direct situation where any donations we get go to these organizations and all money is put toward feeding people.”

Through their efforts, the theater group is hoping to draw attention to the fact that the programs exist and are available to anyone, as well as reaching out to the Hispanic community to let them know the same.

Selecting a play wasn’t easy. Virtual performances don’t allow for interaction with the audience or within the cast, and producing a play in which the cast will be live on stage at the North Coast Recreation District, but performing separately, is challenging, said Linda Makohon, producer and director.  

“It’s been very different,” she said. “When you put on a play together, normally you create a little family and people get to know each other.… You learn together and are helping each other as to how to put on this performance. Now you have this new world and that can’t happen naturally.” Noting that “people are hungry for getting together,” Makohon added that maintaining the family was the most striking part of performing virtually. “In theater, you need it. You need to rely on each other; need to be comfortable with each other.”

Karr found the play funny, insightful, and at times, sad. Maggie’s story is a mother’s story, Karr said. Five-year-old Maggie perceives the audience as a receptive one with whom she can share the life story she’s been meaning to get off her chest.

Mike Sims, with his best friend, Zillah, also plays two roles. He is Pepper, a trash-talking chihuahua, and Munga, an old Dingo who drinks beer. Photo courtesy: Riverbend Players
Mike Sims, with his best friend, Zillah, also plays two roles. He is Pepper, a trash-talking chihuahua, and Munga, an old Dingo who drinks beer. Photo courtesy: Riverbend Players

“She was well cared for,” Karr said. “She’s just trying to explain her life and how difficult it is to figure out those boys — the dogs. “She just felt they were quite disgusting when she was a young bitch. Then, she goes into heat and doesn’t know what that’s about. Of course, her feelings about motherhood… I won’t give away the sad part. It’s very sad. I end up usually crying myself.”

For the role of Savoir Faire, Karr plays a greyhound who “talks” about catching that stupid rabbit. “Of course, we all know which is the stupid one,” Karr adds.

Performances are 7 p.m. April 9 and 10 and 2 p.m. April 11. Details on how to see the play and/or make a donation are here.

***

STAND BY FOR NEWS from the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, manager of the Newport Performing Arts Center and Newport Visual Arts Center. Jason Holland, currently vice president of community engagement at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, Calif., will be taking over as of April 7, according to acting interim director, David Carnevale.

The search for a new director attracted more than 30 applicants from all over the country, including New York, California, Texas, Utah, and New Mexico.   

“We were pleased to see a lot of interest in OCCA and the work we were doing,” Carnevale said. He noted that the search placed the organization in a position to redefine itself, gain national clout, and get its name out to more than just the coastal community.

Bringing in new blood, he said, gives the arts centers a chance to redefine themselves. “With the board’s permission, approval, and excitement, Jason is not interested in continuing business as usual,” he said. “It doesn’t mean throwing out the baby with the bathwater, it means respecting tradition, and finding sustainable programming within organizations that support our mission.” He added that the Performing Arts Center is often confused as being the same as the resident organizations. “We have to remember things the resident organizations do is not necessarily OCCA, but OCCA supports them.”

Stay tuned for more from Holland, who will be moving to the Oregon Coast, Carnevale said.

About the author

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pups Luna and Monkey.

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