Pat Patton

Farewell to the Tangerine Window

In his final days, the beloved set designer and artist Tim Stapleton hosted a steady flow of friends. Now, his final artwork is on display.

“To get to the Tangerine Window you had to go on a bit of a spirit journey,” as Mary McDonald Lewis puts it.

The window in question was at West Hills Health & Rehabilitation, a nursing facility in Portland’s Multnomah Village, with low-slung yellow-brick buildings and well-manicured lawns. “You’d walk down the narrow side of the building, through a gate and into a little courtyard of small lawns, park benches, little gardens,” McDonald Lewis continues. The anodyne surroundings are scrupulously, pleasantly plain — except for one section. There, little bursts of color catch the eye — flowers in sky-blue planter pots, a yellow rubber duck in a rusted iron bird feeder, large ceramic carp glazed in brilliant cobalt blue, seeming to swim along a dry stream of stones. And then, instead of the standard-issue white curtains of the other rooms, a flash of bright orange appears like a welcome.
“It’s like a window that you’d expect to see on ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.’ A window that glowed like monarch butterfly wings. But then, inside, is a very ill man. And yet, within moments you’re caught up in his eyes, and in his stories, and then it’s just Tim. You’re with Tim.”


Photographer Owen Carey, who shot this portrait of Tim Stapleton in 2013, joined forces with Stapleton on many a play and many a cocktail. Carey says that in one of his last text exchanges he asked if he should bring anything on his next visit. “He asked for ‘some Pirate’s Booty, your booty, and a Negroni in a sippy cup.’”

Timothy Wayne Stapleton, an accomplished and beloved figure in the Portland arts scene, died on Sept. 7, at age 71, from the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the motor neuron condition commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” For the last several months of his life, pushing against the isolating effects of both the COVID-19 pandemic and his progressively debilitating illness, many of his many friends made pilgrimages to what everyone called the Tangerine Window.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Be yourself?

Is there such a thing as "just playing yourself" onstage? What does that mean? Plus, openings, closings, nachos, and a Terrence McNally film

Caroline, or change?

Pretend. Play-acting. Make believe. The actor’s art is a curious challenge: Use your heart and mind, body and soul, to appear to be someone else.

Fine actors do it often. And yet, something in that seeming contradiction at the essence of the art sometimes results in an odd response: “Oh, yeah, he’s a good actor, but he only plays himself.”

That’s a bit of off-the-cuff criticism I’ve heard from time to time in talking to Portland theater fans, and I’ve always been puzzled by it. What does such an assertion imply about the nature (or even the definition) of acting? Is “playing yourself” a shortcut to authenticity or a form of cheating? How do you speak someone else’s words and be yourself, anyway?

Sharonlee McLean, “a force of unearthly brilliance” in “Luna Gale.” Photo: Owen Carey

These and other questions came to mind afresh not long ago when I watched Sharonlee McLean as Caroline, an overworked social worker, in Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale, which ended its run at CoHo Theater last weekend. It was another wonderful performance on her part (and from the entire cast, for that matter), but it was her very reliability that reminded me that she’s one of the local performers about whomll I’ve heard that odd opinion: plays herself.

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