Growing older and loving it: This Portland actress has a new show that takes on aging, facial hair, fashion, food and being Jewish

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JIM CLARK - 'My show is real, it's my life,' Portland actress Wendy Westerwelle says of her latest theater creation, 'Medicare-fully Fabulous!' The show, a triangle productions! presentation opening Feb. 6, is filled with humorous, deeply personal stories from Westerwelles past and present, and the joy she feels at age 66.

Wendy Westerwelle has played some memorable characters on Portland stages: an “angry housewife” who forms a punk rock band; a Holocaust survivor; showbiz legend Sophie Tucker.

Now the Portland actress is about to make theater as personal as it gets. She plays herself, along with several of her relatives, in her new show, “Medicare-fully Fabulous!” It’s the story of her life, and Westerwelle lays it out with humor and feeling — being Jewish, surviving enormous physical trauma, finding a spiritual path, and ultimately growing older and loving it, facial hair, flagging sex drive and all.

“The show is me,” says the 66-year-old Southeast Portland resident, who conceived and wrote this one-woman show that triangle productions! will open Feb. 6.

Front and center is Westerwelle’s lifelong battle with food addiction, revealed in the scene in which her family is gathered for Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest (Westerwelle plays her Aunt Ruth, Aunt Esther, Uncle Sam, Uncle Julie and cousin Gail).

“How did I become a food addict? There’s a clue in the Shabbat scene,” she says.

And the health crisis that hit her when she was 58. She weighed 267 pounds and had diabetes. One day she slipped and fell, breaking both her knees. She underwent major surgery and nearly died. She ended up in a nursing home because she was so big she couldn’t be carried up the front steps to her house, she says. She was in a wheelchair, then a walker, then used a cane. She started losing weight while convalescing and regained the ability to walk.

“You know the saying, ‘God brings you to your knees’?” she asks. “My choices were to die or figure out a way to live.”

It’s clear which one Westerwelle chose. She now weighs 140 pounds, her diabetes is under control, and she goes to three or four food addiction recovery meetings every week. Her knees are stiff, but she can walk and run.

“I’m 66 and I feel 45, except I’ve grown in my mind. I am so happy to be my age and to stop worrying and stop the fear of not doing enough or being enough,” she says.

“I’m full of energy. I love being older. I’ve decided to live, live, live and then just drop dead.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JIM CLARK - This is Westerwelle's 40th year working in Portland theater.

On with the show

This is Westerwelle’s 40th year in Portland theater. She moved here from Chicago, her hometown, in 1974. She was 26 and widowed; her first husband, Kenneth Westerwelle, a rock and blues musician, died of leukemia. Six years earlier she had lost her mother, who suffered from multiple sclerosis. Westerwelle was ready to start a new life.

She chose Portland, she says with a smile, after seeing the film “Sometimes a Great Notion” and decided to find a lumberjack “who looks like Paul Newman.”

One night at the Veritable Quandary, someone told her about a theater director named Ric Young who was holding auditions for Storefront Theater. Westerwelle became a core member of that company, appearing in the original cast of “Angry Housewives.”

In the 1980s she wrote and starred in “Soph: A Visit With the Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” her one-woman show about the late, great Sophie Tucker.

Westerwelle had remarried by then — Mark Larsen, her husband of 34 years, is an artist and licensed massage therapist. In the early ‘90s, the two of them packed up and moved to Los Angeles, where Westerwelle found an agent and some acting work but also went to “ridiculous auditions for ridiculous parts,” she recalls. “I wasn’t a star, and I was starting late.”

Eventually they moved back to Portland. “I wanted to see a rhododendron bush,” Westerwelle says, smiling.

But mostly she had learned she didn’t belong in L.A. “It wasn’t a place for an artist to be if you wanted to do good work,” she says.

Back in the Rose City, she connected with Don Horn, founder and managing director of triangle productions! and wrote another one-woman show, “Recovering From Myself.” She also performed in “Rose,” Martin Sherman’s one-woman drama about an elderly survivor of Nazi-ruled Europe.

“My stories have to make a huge difference in the world,” Westerwelle says. “They have to bring joy, they have to tell a story ... I don’t do theater just to do it.”

Her new show, which Horn directs, “is about recovery, hope and finding a higher power, which I call God, and finding my Jewish roots again,” she says.

Westerwelle had fallen away from Judaism because “I was mad at God,” she says. “My mother had died, my first husband died, my father left — I had no family.”

She has returned to her religion as a member of Congregation Beth Israel in Portland. “They’re a special community. They were open and welcoming to me,” she says.

Besides her theater work, Westerwelle has a part-time job at Switch Shoes and Clothing in Multnomah Village, and she runs her own wardrobe consulting business called Your Fashion is My Passion.

“There’s no reason not to look fabulous,” she says. “I think it’s a moral obligation to look as good as you can every single day.”

Her hobby, she says, is spending time with her girlfriends. “They are beautiful and fabulous. I couldn’t have made it without them and without my husband.”

No doubt about it, Westerwelle loves people. “Do you know how many strangers I meet every day who tell me, ‘I love your hair!’ And then they hug me, and I have a new friend,” she says.

“We are not old. We are alive, and we need to be joyous and grateful and look fabulous and take care of ourselves and the people we love.”

“Medicare-fully Fabulous!”

What: triangle productions! presents the premiere of Wendy Westerwelle’s new show.

When: Feb. 6 to March 2.

Where: The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 N.E. Sandy Blvd., Portland.

Performances: Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. (no show Sunday, Feb. 9).

Tickets: $15 to $35; all seats reserved.

Info: 503-239-5919 or

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