The work of bestselling humorist and Sandpoint native Patrick F. McManus is returning to the stage in the new production “McManus and Me: The First 20 Years.” The show, which makes its Washington state premiere in time for Father’s Day weekend, is the sixth adaptation of McManus’ stories to star Tim Behrens as a one-man cast of colorful characters.
Credited as an “indentured actor”– he claims that designation is for tax write-off purposes – Behrens has been bringing McManus’ witty musings to life for the past 20 years. He transforms himself throughout the show to portray the wacky residents of the fictional town of Blight, Idaho, with such wild names as Melba Peachbottom and Rancid Crabtree.
Behrens estimates that he has performed as McManus’ characters more than 1,600 times and in 23 different states. He’s so closely associated with McManus, in fact, that he says he’s almost inseparable from the material. “People will continually call me Pat,” he said with a laugh. “I could probably start signing checks as Pat McManus.”
Their working relationship dates to 1993, when Behrens first performed a series of McManus-penned skits in Sandpoint. It was an especially nerve-wracking experience: Behrens recalls McManus telling him, “If you don’t get a laugh within the first 30 seconds, I’m taking my entire family and leaving the theater. Then I’m going to come back later to shoot you.”
But the duo eventually found their voice and continued to work on new material, producing several popular shows including “A Fine and Pleasant Misery,” “McManus in Love” and “Poor Again … Dagnabbit!”
“McManus and Me” is essentially a greatest hits collection of scenes from the earlier comedies, interspersed with Behrens’ own anecdotes from his past two decades touring the country – stories of particularly memorable gigs, what goes on backstage, an unfortunate fishing expedition in Alaska, and numerous instances of McManus’ admittedly horrible sense of direction.
In the vein of Mark Twain and Garrison Keillor, McManus’ writing is firmly rooted in themes of nature, American tradition and oddball human behavior. Most of his stories are played strictly for laughs, but Behrens says that McManus does have a tendency to get poignant every once in awhile.
“Although Pat has a stricture,” Behrens said. “Avoid poignancy at all costs. He says, ‘If I wanted poignancy, I’d shoot the family dog.’ ”
McManus, who turns 80 this summer, will be attending this weekend’s performances of “McManus and Me,” and he will sign books before the shows and during intermissions. It’s a rare appearance by the author, whose presence at book signings is becoming less frequent.
Behrens claims that McManus’ traveling days are likely over: As he approaches his 80s and having already sold 5 million books, he’d rather sit at home in his rocking chair and collect royalty checks.