'GOOD MORNING,' PHYLLIS YES
It's about time Phyllis Yes got around to writing her debut play.
After a career of educating artists, showing about 140 exhibits of personal work and painting a Porsche to proudly display her feminism, Yes got to thinking about writing a play and had a great idea: Write about my own family.
She's now 76. Better late than never, they say.
"It's kind of exhilarating to have this dream, and see it come true," Yes says.
So, "Good Morning, Miss America" hits the stage at CoHo Theater through March 31. Yes wrote about living in Oregon and taking care of her aging parents in Minnesota from afar, and the inherent struggles of dealing with people who need help — without much help from her young sister. It's pretty much a true story, except that Yes wrote into the play that she had never been married; she has been married before, but now proudly says, "I'm a very single person," engaged but not destined for marriage again.
The play came about when she was painting with some friends in a regular painting group, and lamenting about the trials and tribulations of taking care of ailing parents while living 1,700 miles away. Yes shared her stories and "sometimes they'd laugh like crazy, and sometimes it was stunning."
She started writing and Artists Repertory Theatre eventually named "Good Morning, Miss America" one of its semifinalists in the "Table/Room/Stage" competition in 2016. The folks at CoHo, including director Philip Cuomo, helped her along and set the stage for the play, which stars Lorraine Bahr as dutiful daugther Jane, Kelly Marchant as sister Cindy and Jane Fellows (Doris) and Rick Sadle (Lou the stepfather) as the parents — fictitious names used. Fellows also directs.
"It has not been cathartic" to work on the play, Yes admits. The real-life story interests her more than stresses her out, and Yes has been involved in the play from the start, nearly every day.
It's one of the underappreciated stories of adulthood: dealing with your own ailing/aging parents.
There was a time when Yes worried about her stepfather shooting her mother and then himself, because he had a sawed-off shotgun. "They loved each other, but he was (suffering from dementia) and it made it very difficult," she says. "Well, the only thing I'll say (about the play) is he doesn't shoot her."
Drama in the story also came from the dysfunctional relationship between Yes and her sister, "who had a different attitude than mine — 'they're adults, let them do what they want.' I wanted to take control, foolishly, or make them safe in their own home."
She adds: "It's very much about love. The ending is up for interpretation, but I firmly believe it is about love."
Writing the play has been a highlight for Yes, who moved from Austin, Minnesota, (the home of Spam) in 1973. She taught at Western Oregon and Oregon State universities. She moved to Portland in 1978 and taught painting and drawing at Lewis & Clark College for 26 years. She also served as chair of the art department and dean of arts and humanities on Palatine Hill.
Having taken students to New York several times, she saw different plays every week. It led to her writing a screenplay about the feminist/activist Guerrilla Girls, but "I didn't know what to do with it."
Earlier, she had served in the Peace Corps in Brazil, where she later taught at a university. Then she went through a stretch of wanting to "feminize" objects with her painting.
She bought a 1967 Porsche 911S, "a very hot car, and the guy who handed me the key told me I was the first woman to drive this car. I knew I had the right object."
On an athletic field at Lewis & Clark, she painted it, using an air brush and hand-adorned lace rosettes and silver-based color paints. She shipped it to New York for an art opening and then drove it back as a traveling exhibit "and had a wonderful time." She called it her "PorShe." Eventually she sold the car to a man who presented it at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance at Carmel-By-The-Sea, California, and it won a people's choice award.
"Somebody told me I should use a sledgehammer to get my (feminist) point across," she says. "I thought humor was the way to go."
And, now she has a play with her design all over it.
"Good Morning, Miss America" stages through March 31 at CoHo Theatre, 2257 N.W. Raleigh St. For more/tickets: www.cohoproductions.org.